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Downing Street defends 'back to work' push for civil servants after union threatens strike action

PCS boss Mark Serwotka has warned of strike action (Credit: PA)

3 min read

Downing Street has defended its decision to encourage civil servants to return to work after a union chief warned of strike action.

Public and Commerical Services (PCS) union boss Mark Serwotka said the Government would face walkouts if more civil servants were asked to go back into work without detailed assurances about their safety.

Boris Johnson has said people should begin to return to their workplaces, in consultation with their employers, if it is safe to do so.

“Just as we’ve advised businesses to do we’re consulting closely with employees on the change to the default that civil servants should work from home. This is in line with the guidance," the PM's spokesman said on Monday.

“Each department will need to provide assurance that government workplaces are Covid-secure and that employees’ individual circumstances will be taken into account with no individual having to return where there are health reasons for them not to do so.”

Civil service chief Alex Chisholm wrote to the permanent secretaries of all departments last week to say there needed to be an "acceleration" of people returning to work.

But the PCS said the request was "completely unacceptable".

"That demand is not based on our members’ health and safety, or on helping our economy, it is based entirely on political pressure being exerted by some Tory MPs who are demanding that the civil service is used as an example to get everybody back to work," the union said on its website.

"People should only go back to work when it is safe to do so. Everyone’s health and safety must be the top priority. We told the Cabinet Office that we weren’t prepared to accept this and they agreed to a meeting next week to start looking at the type of things that can be done to ensure that everyone can be safe."

It went on: "Our advice to members is clear, if you are working from home and you get approached by anyone in your department asking you to now go back to work, don’t just accept that’s what you have to do."

Asked if Mr Johnson was disappointed that the head of the biggest civil service union was threatening strike action, the PM's spokesman added: “What we’re proposing is in line with the Government’s advice to other employers. Government departments are changing the default that civil servants should work from home and we’re looking to accelerate the return to the workplace from August 1.

“But we will be making sure to consult closely with employees through the process.”

Earlier this month the Government's chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, said he did not think there was any reason for people to stop working from home. 

He told the Commons science and technology select committee that the measure remained "a perfectly good option" to help combat the spread of the virus.

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