Wednesday, 10 June 2020

CORONA VIRUS ADVICE



COLLECTED ADVICE REGARDING CORONA VIRUS
AND HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR WORKPLACE.

Government official advice regarding the Corona Virus


03 July 2020 | DWP briefing.Department for Work & Pensions Group
Safety being compromised with rush to open Jobcentres to the public


To: Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contacts, Regional Secretaries & GEC
DWP/BB/056/20

Management with their drive to rush through the re-opening of Jobcentres to the public are liable to be breaching health and safety legislation. The Government guidance on what employers must do to protect the safety of the workforce are very clear that kit should be provided to maximise the numbers of staff who can work from the safety of their home in the first instance. Not only is there a reluctance to do this management want to increase the risk in Jobcentres of the spread of the virus and make the public leave the safety of their homes to travel to the Jobcentre to receive services that our members can provide to a better and safer standard remotely through phone and digital channels. 

The guidance is very clear about the requirement for employers to consult the unions on the risk assessments in a meaningful way and this goes on to cite some of the penalties when employers are found to be breaching H&S legislation up to and including 2-years imprisonment. 

DWP management have failed to follow health and safety guidance to consult in good time on the risk assessment and to give us an opportunity to express our views and to take account of any responses.

▪︎ No agreed Risk assessment
Guidance and a JCFRA has appeared on the intranet. None of these have been agreed with PCS. In fact there is a meeting next Monday to try to sort this out. We have had a number of meetings with management and JP Marks, Debbie Alder and Margarita Morrison have all assured us that Jobcentres will not open until it is safe to do so.

When PCS finally received a copy of the JCFRA management had already set in train their plans to issue the risk assessment and all the other guidance out to the business. There was absolutely no interest in even taking on board the extensive union comments on the risk assessment process to protect the lives and the safety of our members and all the staff working in Jobcentres. The response we have received to our extensive comments fails to recognise the duty of care DWP has to protect the health, safety and welfare of all staff and everyone within our workplaces. 

In fact undue pressure is being put on site reps to sign off an inadequate risk assessment which is designed to only pay lip service to our health safety rather than properly discuss all the issues. No documents that are published on the intranet or being issued in sites have had the serious issues that PCS has raised incorporated, let alone agreed
Management have unilaterally rushed out their poor material with undue haste and put pressure on PCS reps to agree plans that would put our members in serious and imminent danger. PCS would have preferred to have had the opportunity to properly discuss the process and plans and allow for union comments and suggested improvements to be incorporated. We have no option but to publish the issues we have raised with management to reps as all of these issues need to be properly discussed at site level 

The stage managed opening of Marylebone was done without an agreed national generic JCFRA and without a locally agreed JCFRA. Some of the PPE that they said was required was not on site but they still insisted on opening as they had arranged a visit of the minister. Clearly media coverage for Tories is more important than the health safety and wellbeing of our members and also the public.

It is important that all reps challenge any attempt to open the jobcentres prior to all the safety aspects being put in place.

As well as wanting meaningful consultation on the JCFRA and supporting documents we have asked for the risk assessment of the PPE that they are planning to use. In particular we want the specifications and risk assessment for the screens. We have grave concerns about the safety of the screens given that 4 of these glass screens have already shattered whilst being installed making a mockery of management’s claim that the screens are shatter proof.

We asked for risk assessment on the visors and masks that they planned to use and we have already had sight of inadequate fashion masks that have been given to guards.
This does not instil confidence that the safety of our members is being taken seriously.

▪︎ Advice to branches
As this is a safety issue reps should be given an opportunity to speak to their site members on this. It's important that the strength of feeling of all our members is taken into account. Meetings can be organised electronically or if you have a safe place (like the fire muster point) where you can meet with members whilst maintaining the 2 metre social distancing this could be done.

All H&S reps should make clear that; we are opposed to unsafe opening of jobcentres to the public, we are worried about the safety of the screens that are being installed badly and with no regard to health and safety control measures or proper discussion about what is required. The potential for the screens to be an additional hazard and a risk to staff is huge. A proper cleaning regime needs to be put in place that ensures regular cleaning of equipment after every user. Social distancing of 2 metres should be deployed at all times, in line with PCS' position. Reps should continue to use the 5 tests agreed by PCS nationally to ensure safety in our offices and to engage with members.

Please escalate any issues re this to group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk.

Carol Revell - Group Safety Officer / Katrine Williams - Group Vice President.


03 July 2020 | PCS opposes the unsafe rush to extend Jobcentre services – Your Health and Safety Rights – Full advice is attached

DWP briefing -
To: All Members Department for Work & Pensions Group
DWP/MB/097/20

In a survey PCS members working in Jobcentres have opposed the planned extension of services to the public on safety grounds by a massive majority. 85% of PCS members say they will not feel safe if front facing activity is increased because of the continuing covid 19 risks. PCS has told DWP that it is not safe to extend Jobcentre service. It is shocking that DWP management are willing to put lives at risk by rushing this through. There is no good reason for such a rush. As always PCS wants a negotiated and agreed solution but a lot more time is needed to discuss and sort out an agreed risk assessment and for trials of any extension to Jobcentre services. Yet management insist on a mad rush to extend service from next week. PCS will always put the safety of you and the public first. This briefing sets out your rights in terms of health and safety at work and explains what PCS is doing to protect you. 

▪︎ The Health and Safety at work Act
PCS is making full use of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) 1974. HASAWA lays down wide-ranging duties on employers. Employers must protect the 'health, safety and welfare' of all their employees as well as visitors and the general public.

▪︎ The Risk Assessment is not agreed and not safe
The HASAWA gives union Health and Safety representative’s rights to inspect the workplace and carry out risk assessments. The DWP are legally required to fully consult your union health and safety representatives about a risk assessment. The DWP have unreasonably rushed to extend Jobcentre services and only provided PCS with a draft risk assessment on Monday 29 June leaving insufficient time for proper consultation required by law. PCS has proposed extensive improvements to the risk assessment. In a series of very frustrating meetings the DWP have rejected a number of our improvements. Despite our best efforts the risk assessment has not been agreed. The failure to have an agreed risk assessment is down to DWP's hurry to rush through their decision and refusal to accept reasonable improvements proposed by PCS. We do not believe that it adequately protects your health and safety. A risk assessment must now be done and the agreed in your Jobcentre by your local PCS Health and Safety rep with local management before any extension of services. PCS does not believe that the national risk assessment is safe nor fit for purpose.

▪︎ Union inspection notices
Where necessary, and if risk assessments cannot be agreed, local PCS reps will serve Union Inspection Notices (UIN) to give the DWP notice that they must respond to our health and safety concerns. A UIN is a formal notice on employers where it has been identified that there has been a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and calls for immediate action. PCS is resending guidance to your PCS reps about how to complete a UIN.

▪︎ Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
At regulation 8 the HASAWA 1999 provide for protection if workers feel they are in "serious and imminent danger".

This means that if you don’t feel it is safe at the front of house under these regulations you can ask the employer to move you to a safe place to work until the proper consultation on the risk assessments has taken place and the office has an agreed JCFRA.
For example, if you feel unsafe dealing with the public face to face, due to the lack of the necessary control measures, you could ask under these regulations to be moved to the back of house. However, if you could not work back of house for some reason such as you could not maintain social distancing safely, then you could ask for kit to enable you to work from home until such time as the office was made safe. If a number of people feel this way then you can ask your trade union rep to intercede on your behalf using safety legislation.

Management have a duty of care to protect your safety and there are liability issues if they don’t get this right. They also have a legal responsibility to consult on risk assessments and to listen to trade unions on these and to give comprehensive reasons of why they can’t put the union recommendations in place.

▪︎ Legal rights of members
If, despite all of our best efforts through negotiations, risk assessments and UINs to make workplaces safe, and if despite any safety measures implemented by the employer, you feel that your workplace is unsafe, then you have certain rights under the law.

The union has prepared a briefing on your rights in this scenario which is contained below. Those rights include the right under Sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) to protection from detriment and/or dismissal for leaving or refusing to return to a place of work in circumstances where you reasonably believe that you or others are in serious and imminent danger, or where you take steps to protect yourselves or others. If you reasonably believe that you are in serious and imminent danger contact leeds@pcs.org.uk and a PCS Full Time Official will contact you and provide advice. 

All PCS members working in our Jobcentres, who we hold a personal email address for, will receive an email from the union in the next 24 hours giving more detailed advice on your rights under health and safety legislation. If you have not provided the union with your personal email address then please do so as soon as possible.

Martin Cavanagh - DWP President / Charles Law - Industrial Officer


16 June 2020 | Annual Leave Carry-Over Improvements
Department for Work & Pensions Group briefing DWP/MB/081/20

To: All Members and GEC HR policy guidance updated

DWP Coronavirus HR policy guidance for annual leave has been updated, on 15 June 2020, to implement improvements following consultation with PCS. 


Improvements sought by PCS

PCS Briefing DWP/MB/066/20 reported that the PCS DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) has agreed we should push for further annual leave related improvements for all members. All of the below issues have been raised with the employer and will be pursued by the negotiators:

● the DWP annual leave policy must be equal for all staff and access to the flexible two year carry over must be made available to anyone who requires it
● Increase in the percentage of allowable leave across all operational and formerly corporate centre areas
● Increase the annual leave carry over above the current 10 days allowed, into the next annual leave year
● Add pregnant workers to the list of DWP staff who can benefit from the government's flexible 2 year carry over

PCS negotiators have argued the case for full implementation of the ‘2 year carry over’ with DWP on the basis of these demands agreed by the GEC.

Improvements achieved by PCS
Coronavirus HR policy guidance paragraphs 31(d) and 31(b) have been improved in response to the case put by PCS negotiators in discussions with DWP. Improvements include:
● These exceptional times resulting from Covid-19...require additional flexibility to that which is available under ordinary policy…. Paragraph 31(d) has been revised. A new list for staff automatically covered by the 2 year carry over has been added.
● Employees may carry over up to 10 days leave into next year’s entitlement (pro-rata for part-time employees) without their manager’s consent - more than 10 days may be carried over with their line manager’s consent in exceptional
circumstances, like the COVID pandemic. 31(b)(i) This improvement for paragraph 31(b)(i) now expressly confirms that the provision to carry over more than 10 days leave under ‘normal rules’, in exceptional circumstances, applies for the COVID pandemic
● Pregnant workers have been added to the new list under paragraph 31(d) for those that can benefit from the government's flexible 2 year carry over


More improvements sought
Discussions for increase in the percentage of allowable leave across all operational and formerly corporate centre, areas have taken place and will continue. PCS will continue to argue for all staff to have equality of access to the ‘2 year carry over’ for annual leave and will support all PCS members should they be denied this. But the improvements achieved for Coronavirus HR policy guidance should deliver this objective in practice in the personal cases of PCS members. 


PCS advice for Members
Members should not suffer loss of annual leave under the carry over improvements introduced following consultation with PCS. In all cases you may carry over up to 10 days leave into next year’s entitlement (pro-rata for part-time employees) without your manager’s consent. More than 10 days may be carried over with your line manager’s consent, in exceptional circumstances, like the COVID pandemic, under Coronavirus HR policy guidance paragraph 31bi. Revised paragraph 31d also confirms that those listed below will additionally have their carry over limits relaxed for up to two years so they will, if necessary, have until the end of their leave year following 31 March 2022 to bring any excess leave within normal limits:

● colleagues unable to take annual leave because they are required to work during the COVID epidemic;
● colleagues in the ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’ group who were advised in writing by the NHS to ‘shield’ until further notice;
● anyone experiencing restriction for personal COVID reasons that are similar in severity to those experienced by the ‘Clinically Extremely Vulnerable’, e.g. colleagues required to give personal care;
● colleagues who are pregnant, who have a right to accrue and bring forward annual leave during their pregnancy.


Should a decision in your personal case fall short of the intent of this new guidance you should use your right to dispute any unfair decision using the normal Grievance and Appeal Procedures. PCS will provide advice, support and representation. If you require any assistance in this matter please contact your local branch representative in the first instance or, if required, escalate the issue to group office via: leeds@pcs.org.uk

Martin Cavanagh - Group President
David Burke -
Group Assistant Secretary
Angela Grant - Group Assistant Secretary



11th June 2020 |DWP agrees to a one hour per week flexi credit for members attending their workplace
DWP briefing | Department for Work & Pensions Group 


When PCS surveyed our members in DWP last month we asked members if they agreed with our demand for a shorter working week and flexi credits for travel to work time for members still in the workplace. 88% of you said you agreed with this position and PCS have been pursuing these demands with DWP.

PCS negotiate credit
We are now very pleased that DWP has agreed to PCS‘ demand for recognition of the risk and difficulty our members have faced in travelling to workplaces, by granting all staff who continue to attend their workplace a one hour flexi credit for every week in the period 1 May to 31 July 2020. A total of 14 weeks credit in all, close to two additional days leave.

It is right that DWP has recognised the exceptional contribution of our members who have continued to attend work during the Coronavirus pandemic and kept the vital services DWP provide going.
Not only have you played the leading role in clearing the huge increase in workloads that DWP faced at the start of the pandemic, you have also placed yourselves at risk, every day, by making the journey to and from work as the coronavirus raged across the country.

This flexi credit award applies to all staff who have been attending their workplace, irrespective of their mode of transport, and applies equally to full time and part time staff.

There is a difference between staff who have worked at home and those who have travelled to attend their workplace. Staff working from home have no journey to work each day and do not have to risk catching the virus by attending work. It is therefore right that the real danger faced by members attending work and travelling to work should be recognized by the department.

Never a more important time to be in a union

This award has only happened as a result of the pressure PCS has put upon the department, based, as it was, on the full support of our members. A clear example of PCS delivering real results for our members in some of the most difficult circumstances we have ever faced.

We will continue to pursue our demands around workplace health and safety, maximising working from home as a safety measure, and greater flexibility to annual leave carry over.

Thank you for your support.
Martin Cavanagh - DWP Group President and  Charles Law - Industrial Officer
 

21 May 2020 | Special Leave and Warning Review Period Suspension Letters
DWP briefing : Department for Work & Pensions Group. DWP/BB/041/20
To: Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contact, Regional Secretaries and GEC

DWP suspends warning review periods
PCS Briefing DWP/BB/032/20 reported the PCS response to the DWP decision to suspend an employee’s warning review period during the period of their coronavirus related special leave. DWP Coronavirus HR policy guidance was updated, on 23 April 2020, to include two paragraphs to apply the principle that the employee has to be at work to serve the normal post-warning review period, to coronavirus related special leave. These paragraphs state:
35. It is recognised that colleagues who are on special leave and are in a review period following a formal warning for either unsatisfactory attendance, poor performance or misconduct (i.e. a live warning is in place) are not at work to be able to demonstrate improvements.
36. Any live warning will be suspended during the period of special leave and resume when they return to work. This means the date on which the review period was due to end will be postponed by the duration of the special leave. This will apply where the absence is for a month or more. Suspension applies to the review period only and not to any subsequent ‘sustained improvement period’.
▪︎DWP provides suspension letters
DWP has decided to provide a Model Letter for a line manager to issue to an employee who is in a review period following a first or final written warning for unsatisfactory attendance or poor performance or misconduct and is on a prolonged period of special leave or has returned from a prolonged period of special leave. This letter will inform employees that:
"As you are currently on a prolonged period of special leave you are unable to demonstrate improvements in your attendance/performance/conduct whilst you are not working. For this reason, we are suspending the review period whilst you are absent on special leave. It will resume when you return to work or you can work from home and will continue for the same length of time as you have been absent.
We cannot say at this time what that revised end date will be as there is no certainty due to the pandemic as to when the special leave measures will end and you will be able to return to work or can work from home.
We will notify you in writing of the new end date when you return."
Suspension applies to the review period only and not to any subsequent sustained improvement period.
A similar letter will inform those who have returned from a prolonged period of special leave that their warning review period has been extended.
▪︎PCS guidance for supporting personal cases
This guidance provides advice for supporting members when they receive a copy of the Model Letter for their personal case. Members contacting their local PCS Representative, for advice, support and representation, should be advised that PCS opposes an unfair and potentially discriminatory policy as stated in Briefing DWP/BB/032/20.
▪︎PCS opposes unfair and potentially discriminatory policy
PCS has not agreed the introduction of this new policy. PCS believes that it is unfair to apply this policy for members who have had no choice but to stay at home due to government and departmental instructions to do so in response to the coronavirus pandemic. PCS is concerned that this new policy for suspending the review period will not provide a fair opportunity for the individual to reach a satisfactory conclusion of that review period. PCS has warned DWP that formal action arising out of this policy will also need to be carefully considered in an individual’s case under the Equality Act 2010. There must be no direct discrimination and indirect discrimination must be objectively justified.
Members may use the normal grievance appeal procedures to respond to the Warning Review Period Suspension Letter stating why they feel the suspension of the warning period is unfair, and if appropriate, how it beaches the Equality Act 2010, in their personal case. Members should state the ‘protected characteristic’ (e.g. age; disability; race; sex; sexual orientation) under the Equality Act 2010 which applies in their case and outline their grounds that the suspension of the warning is unlawful discrimination in their personal case.
Members should raise a grievance within 30 working days of the ‘Suspension Letter’ informing them of the suspension, or extension, of their warning review period.
Branches should take legal advice, where there appears to be a case to do so, using the guidance on the PCS website. Cases for an Employment Tribunal must be submitted to the Tribunal within 3 months (less one day) of the date of the original decision given in the ‘Suspension Letter’ (not the date of the grievance or appeal decision).
Coronavirus HR policy guidance includes flexibilities for normal DWP procedures as reported in PCS Briefing DWP/BB/032/20. DWP Coronavirus HR policy guidance is available on the DWP Intranet: All content on the DWP coronavirus intranet pages is being updated on an on-going basis in response to updated Public Health England and/or Government guidance and proposals from PCS for improvements.
PCS may be contacted by email when there is an urgent need to do so via: leeds@pcs.org.uk
Martin Cavanagh - Group President | David Burke - Group Assistant Secretary |
Angela Grant - Group Assistant Secretary

May 21 2020 | Keeping Safe - Social distancing measures rollout

DWP briefing. Department for Work & Pensions Group.
To: Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contacts, Regional Secretaries & GEC
DWP/MB/068/20
DWP have carried out a Social Distancing Pilot in Glasgow Northgate, Cannock Jobcentre and Canterbury UC centre. The first 2 sites have been completed and the third is in progress. In all 3 sites there has been local TU involvement as well as DTUS being part of the strategic approach.
Phase one roll out
The part of the pilot which has been tested will be rolled out in the first 184 sites from Thursday 21st May.
PCS welcomes this first phase which consists of signage and directional tape as this will enhance the work that is already going on in sites regarding social distancing. We have always stated that social distancing is a priority in our offices to protect everyone’s safety. All these process that are put in place will be added to the Covid-19 risk assessment and it’s been agreed that this will be a joint process.
2 metre bubble
The object is to have a 2 metre bubble at all times around a person. There will be signage on desks stating which are to be used and which cannot be used. We have had assurance that this will be measured taking into account the 2 metre bubble around each person. The planned rollout at each site will need to be flexible as when the contractors get to site they might find it’s not quite as expected. Staff may need to move to a safe area whilst the contractors are working. They will do one area of the office at a time and will be wearing face masks and gloves whilst they are working. Staff can use the cleaning equipment to clean their workstation when they have finished if they want but the contractors should use safety protocols whilst they are working. There needs to be special care to ensure that people are not sat within 2 metres of doors, printers, fridges and walkways. Staff must not be sat back to back, face to face or at the next to them. This should already be in place as part of the risk assessment but if it is not, this is an opportunity to put it right.
Floor Markings
The other part of this project is floor markings regarding the 2 metre distance this is especially necessary near entrances. There will be signs and rules around toilets, tea points, lifts etc. For example, in the small toilets it will be one in, one out. The site should already have protocols around this as part of the risk assessment, the signage should support that process. Likewise, with tea points. With lifts apart from the couple of extremely large lifts only one person should use the lift at a time and there will be tape markings for the people waiting to use lifts giving 2 metres space for a person to come out of the lift safely.
Depending on the size and layout of the site there could be one way systems and different staircases for up and down. If the site allows it there can be additional entrances and exits to ease potential congestion.
Pre-installation Meeting
In large complex sites there will be pre-installation meetings which will involve the local TU safety rep or an alternative rep if no safety rep on site or if the local rep is unable to dial in.
Review
If measures included in the signage improve the control measures already in place in the JCFRA and the check-list, these documents must be reviewed to reflect these improvements. There will be an opportunity to review the measures in this rollout after a couple of weeks to see if any changes need to be made and we have argued that the SRO should do this jointly with the H&S reps.
Escalation Process
There have been rumours that this is being done in order to open are offices quickly, we have been assured that this is not the case and that when the time comes in the future to look at opening our offices there will be full consultation.

We welcome all opportunities to improve awareness and compliance with the 2 metre social distancing rules. But recognise the haste that this is being rolled out is likely to cause issues on sites. There are sites where there is still not agreement about the social distancing control measures and this roll out could be an opportunity to get these issues addressed properly with 2 metres spacing between all staff at all times, with signage put in place properly. If there any problems with the rollout of the social distancing signage, raise with management locally to see if issues can be addressed properly and escalate straightaway where it cannot be.

As with all the safety processes the more site managers can work with PCS H&S reps to ensure the safety of everyone on the site the better the implementation of safety measures and protection of all works. The primary concern of PCS is to ensure that all our workplaces are safe and we will continue to press for full compliance across all the sites.
Carol Revell - Group Safety Officer | Katrine Williams - Group Vice President

19 May 2020 | PCS demands access for all staff to ‘2 year carry over’ of annual leave
DWP briefing. Department for Work & Pensions Group
To: Branch Secretaries, Additional Branch Contact, Regional Secretaries and GEC. DWP/MB/066/20
HR policy guidance updated
DWP Coronavirus HR policy guidance for annual leave has been updated, on 14/05/20, following consultation, but not agreement, with PCS. Improvements have been introduced but DWP continues to refuse to allow all staff full access to the ‘2 year carry over’ for annual leave. The revised DWP guidance is attached as Appendix A at the end of this Briefing.
• PCS demands equality for all
PCS will continue to argue for all staff to have equality of access to the ‘2 year carry over’ for annual leave and will support all PCS members who have been denied this.
PCS had raised concerns regarding the potentially discriminatory nature of the revised policy, imposed without full and proper consultation with your union, and were able to achieve some amendments to reduce the risk, but the changes have not gone far enough.
The GEC negotiators further challenged the ability for any of our members to make good use of their leave during lockdown for rest, leisure, and outdoor social activity as defined by the DWP annual leave policy. Disappointingly, rather than use this correct definition to maximise the ability for members to receive the flexible 2-year carry over announced by government, DWP have instead chosen to re-write the definition of what leave should be used for, to "relax and fully switch off from work."
PCS have questioned DWP as to whether their new policy meets the requirement under the Working Time (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which allows for a flexible 2-year carry over for any statutory annual leave members are unable to take due to coronavirus related conditions. DWP claim that it does meet the terms of the new legislation as “entitlement is qualified”. But PCS is concerned that DWP guidance should allow access to a 2-year carry over, under the statutory criteria, for both statutory and contractual annual leave. DWP should accept that the national ‘lockdown’, with restrictions on travel and closure of hotels, does mean that for the vast majority of colleagues at work, and on special leave, that it was not reasonably practicable for them to take some or all of their annual leave.
• PCS advice for Members
PCS will support all members who suffer detriment as a result of this revised annual leave policy and would encourage you to exercise your right to dispute any unfair decisions using the normal Grievance and Appeal Procedures. Members should contact their local PCS representative for advice and support.
• PCS seek further improvements
The PCS DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) has agreed we should push for further annual leave related improvements for all members.
All of the below issues have been raised with the employer and will be pursued by the negotiators:
▪︎the DWP annual leave policy must be equal for all staff and access to the flexible two year carry over must be made available to anyone who requires it
▪︎Increase in the percentage of allowable leave across all operational and formerly corporate centre areas
▪︎Increase the annual leave carry over above the current 10 days allowed, into the next annual leave year
▪︎Add pregnant workers to the list of DWP staff who can benefit from the government's flexible 2 year carry over
PCS is continuing to argue the case for full implementation of the ‘2 year carry over’ with DWP on the basis of these demands agreed by the GEC.
If you require any assistance in this matter please contact your local branch representative in the first instance or, if required, escalate the issue to group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk
Martin Cavanagh - Group President
Angela Grant - Group Assistant Secretary
David Burke - Group Assistant Secretary

15 May 2020 |
Almost 90% civil servants opposed to returning to workplaces until it is safe to do so
PCS is overwhelmingly opposed to returning to unsafe workplaces, a new survey has shown.  
12,000 members responded to the survey with 88% saying they are opposed to any return to normal working until it is safe to do so.  
83% of members strongly support the union’s campaign on coronavirus health and safety which includes proper safeguarding measures agreed with the union and put in place for anyone who attends a workplace.
The new survey results follow head of the civil service Mark Sedwill’s message that “apart from the shielded groups, those who cannot work from home– and are not already operating from their workplace – are being encouraged to return to work.” 
The announcement was contrary to discussions that the union has been having with the Cabinet Office, ensuring that as many people as possible can work from home.  
Mr Sedwill’s message also failed to make a distinction between advice provided to England and the devolved nations. 
Responding to the survey, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The view of the union is simple, no one should be returning to the workplace until it is safe to do so.  
“The survey shows that civil servants are extremely concerned about the spread of Covid-19 and the union will always insist that trade union health and safety reps are involved in any proposed plan to return people to any workplace. 
“Civil servants have made enormous sacrifices to help people receive benefits, file tax returns, access furlough funds and keeping our borders secure.  
“66%, according to our survey, are successfully working from home and we would like to see this figure increased by rolling out technology to allow our members to work safely. 
“The government must work with trade unions and stop demonizing them in the media for doing the job their members pay for them to do – to ensure that when they go to work, they come back home safely.” 
We are in the process of developing a set of health and safety tests to make sure workplaces are safe to return to. 


15 May 2020 | Looking after your mental health
Mental Health Awareness Week starts on 16 May and this year’s theme is kindness.
It’s natural to feel anxious, worried or stressed with the outbreak of the Coronavirus. For some there’s job and pay insecurity, worrying about paying bills, school closures meaning challenges with juggling childcare and work, and how to cope if you or your family become ill. Coupled with this, the impact of shielding, social distancing and self-isolation, can lead to loneliness, particularly if you live alone.
The Coronavirus has affected the most vulnerable in society. Disabled members are struggling to get their reasonable adjustments installed so they can work from home. For neurodivergent people where routine and stability is key, the virus outbreak can lead to feeling overly anxious/stressed.  Anxiety can also increase as a result of easing lockdown restrictions, with new working arrangements, being asked to social distance and being placed in an over-simulating environment without the implementation of their usual reasonable adjustments.
Some positive steps to maintain good mental wellbeing
  • Set a routine: For home workers, get ready as if you were going to the office, ensure your home workstation is comfortable and take regular breaks.
  • How to de-stress: Go for a walk, sit in your garden if you have one; finding somewhere quiet to take some deep breaths or access online based exercise and meditation sites can reduce anxiety. Also, limit watching the news and social media.  Distract yourself by reading or find photos from a happy occasion to ground yourself.
  • Stay connected: By making video calls on Skype/WhatsApp or phoning family or friends can help with human connection.  This is particularly important for those with elderly or vulnerable family members who can’t leave the house.
  • Helping others: Simple acts of kindness such as checking on a neighbour or work colleague regularly can really make a difference to your own wellbeing and it connects us to our local community.
  • Change perspective: It’s just as important to remember that this time will pass.  Write a gratitude list and note what you’d like to do once this is over.
  • Remember PCS is there for you: Keep your PCS rep’s details safe – to make contact if necessary.  Your employer has a duty of care to ensure you are safe at work and in regular contact.
Some useful websites and social media sites: PCS health, safety and welfare Facebook page | Mind charity website | Samaritans | YouTube – free exercise and mediation sites


15 May 2020 | Hundreds of PCS activists prepare to call members
Hundreds of PCS activists will be helping our members during these unprecedented times by calling them to find out if they’re OK, if they have any issues, and if they want to get more involved in their union.
We will be running a series of Callhub training sessions on video conferencing platform Zoom over the next few weeks to empower activists to carry out these calls. Activists will call members in their own region.
These are being organised across the UK. Training sessions are planned for activists in Scoltand on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 1pm and 5.30-6.30pm.
Over the past two weeks staff from our hubs have spoken directly to about 2,000 activists, 550 of whom agreed to make calls to members. We are now contacting all 550 to get them registered on Callhub and making calls. 
If you want to get involved contact your local PCS office or email organising@pcs.org.uk
If you want to become a PCS Advocate you can sign up online.
If you have concerns read our coronavirus Q+A and if you can’t find the answer you can log an enquiry with our response team by email responseteam@pcs.org.uk
Read further information on our response to the coronavirus outbreak on the employer pages of our website.
If you know a colleague who is not in the union please ask them to join.


11 May 2020 | PCS statement on Covid-19
The PCS Senior Officers' Committee met today and agreed that the Prime Minister’s announced changes to the lockdown guidance are unjustified and potentially dangerous, and have caused widespread confusion.
Mark Sedwill, Head of the UK Civil Service, has issued a message to civil service staff endorsing the PM’s announcement.
We will be meeting with Cabinet Office officials tomorrow, 12 May, to clarify what, if anything, may change in the light of the PM’s statement and that of Mr Sedwill.
In the meantime, the union’s advice remains unchanged: that if you are one of the majority of members working at home you should continue to do so unless and until you are advised differently following tomorrow’s meeting. We believe that more people should be working at home, but if you are in a workplace, you have the right to safe and healthy working conditions, including social distancing.
If any member has any concerns they should contact the union: log in to PCS Digital for contact details.
The union’s National Executive Committee meets on Wednesday 13 May.
Further communications to members will be issued following this week’s meetings.


12th May 2020 | Urgent Cabinet Office talks follow PM’s coronavirus statement of 10 May 2020

PCS met with the Cabinet Office today to discuss our response to the Prime Minister’s statement regarding easing the lockdown. PCS stressed our disappointment with the statement of 10 May and emphasised that we do not believe that any general return to work is safe at this time.
We also condemned yesterday’s communication by Mark Sedwill, Head of the UK Civil Service, that said that “apart from the shielded groups, those who cannot work from home– and are not already operating from their workplace – are being encouraged to return to work.”
The announcements appear to be contrary to discussions that we have been having with the Cabinet Office, which have been around ensuring that as many people as possible can work from home. Mr Sedwill’s message also failed to take into account the different advice provided by the devolved nations to their residents.
Return to work arrangements
Despite Mr Sedwill’s message, the Cabinet Office confirmed at our meeting today that the civil service wants to see a continuation of home working; that it is continuing to attempt to increase the number of people working from home; and that it doesn’t want to see any sudden increase in staff returning to workplaces.
PCS stressed our position; that we want to see homeworking arrangements maximised and proper safeguarding measures agreed with the union and put in place for anyone who has to attend a workplace. We will also need to discuss the implications for members needing to use public transport to get to work.
Advice to members
If you are currently working at home, you should not be expected to go into work until agreement is reached on safe working.  For those already at work, we will continue to insist that this must be done safely, with appropriate social distancing measures are necessary protections.  These provisions must also apply to workers in the private sector working at civil service workplaces.
We will continue to meet with the Cabinet Office regularly and update you on developments.


17 Apr 2020 | Coping with the financial impact of coronavirus
Lighthouse Financial is offering a free financial phone consultation to PCS members
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live our everyday lives and, while our main concern is safeguarding our own health, that of our loved ones and the wider community, many people are already feeling the financial impact.
The government has announced financial help by introducing mortgage “payment holidays” and similar schemes for those with vehicle finance or those tied into “buy now pay later” deals.  But it can be difficult knowing whether you qualify for these schemes or if they would be a sensible choice for you.
Lighthouse Financial Advice, our preferred partners for professional financial advice, is available as usual and able to provide advice by phone. All PCS members are entitled to a complimentary, no obligation initial phone consultation with one of their professional financial advisers.  The consultation will take around 30 minutes and the adviser will be able to provide guidance and support on a range of financial matters.
To book your phone consultation call 08000 85 85 90 or email appointments@lighthousefa.co.uk.
Following the initial consultation, if you wish to appoint Lighthouse Financial Advice as your financial adviser they will explain and agree any charges with you before undertaking any work on your behalf.
Details of other membership benefits including free legal advice and discounts on shopping and insurance are on the benefits pages of the website.


16 Apr 2020 |Join PCS Facebook live coronavirus update on 21 April
PCS is running a Facebook live event at 7pm on Tuesday (21) so send in your coronavirus-related questions and tune into our Facebook page on the night.
Our general secretary Mark Serwotka will give an update on negotiations with the Cabinet Office and address members’ concerns about work and their well-being. He will also answer members’ questions about how the virus has affected their lives, the new way our union is working and how we are working hard to protect members
Our national president Fran Heathcote will introduce and chair the event.
Send in your questions in advance to editor@pcs.org.uk or ask them on the night during the event.
Get answers to your Covid-19 related questions in our response centre or for group-specific issues see the PCS web section for your employer group.
Not a PCS member? Join today. 


16 Apr 2020 | PCS support system changes for crisis period
The way members can access help and support via the PCS Support Centre has change for the coronavirus crisis period, in order to keep the team safe.
Members can still get help and support but the union is not able to operate its normal telephone helpline for the immediate future.
PCS is currently working on a new centralised service through which members can contact the union and get consistent answers to their questions and/or be put in touch with the relevant union officers.
If you have questions about the impact of coronavirus on your area of work, visit your PCS employer group page in the first instance, you can still join the union online.
Existing members can sign up and log in to PCS Digital.
Here you can access your membership record and update your details. To sign up you will require your new PCS number, beginning with ‘P’, which will have been included on any recent mailings.
Queries about membership can be sent to membership@pcs.org.uk
Information about our benefits and how to access them can be found online
Queries about benefits can be emailed to benefits@pcs.org.uk 
The initial point of contact for members seeking support with a personal case should be with their local rep. You can find their details by logging into PCS Digital. If a rep cannot be reached, members can email legal@pcs.org.uk providing an email address and daytime contact number.
This article appears in the latest issue of PCS People.


09 Apr 2020 | Overtime: 48 hour weekly limit for working time and Weekly Rest Breaks


DWP has “temporarily flexed” policies for overtime rates of pay in response to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. This flexibility is a temporary measure in response to the increased workloads as a result of Covid-19.
The measure will be initially in place for a defined period from 28 March 2020 until 19 April 2020, at which point it will be reviewed and further information will be provided. DWP will continue to adhere to the 48 hour weekly limit and Weekly Rest Break.Collective Agreement for Working Time RegulationsThe purpose of the Working Time Regulations is to protect workers’ health, safety and welfare. The terms of the Collective Agreement for Working Time Regulations will continue to apply.
This means that:
The 48 hour weekly working time limit will be averaged over 17 weeks. This reference period is any period of 17 weeks, in effect a rolling reference period.   
The Weekly Rest Break gives an adult worker entitlement to either one uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours in each 7-day period, or one uninterrupted rest period of 48 hours in each 14-day period, according to their preference. The 14-day period starts at midnight between Sunday and Monday. Young workers (under age 18) are entitled to 2 days rest in each week.
Weekly Rest Break is not limited to a Saturday or SundayAbsences such as TOIL, annual, sick, public and privilege, special or flexi leave do not count as, or towards a weekly rest break. Employees must still take a break in addition to any other leave or absence that they have taken in the 7 or 14-day period.
This is explained under Working Time Regulations Advice Q&A 5 available on the DWP Intranet. But the Weekly Rest Break is not limited to a Saturday or Sunday. Individuals working overtime on Saturday/Sunday retain the right to take a Weekly Rest Break on other days during the week.Managers must ensure the Weekly Rest Break is taken by individuals in their team.


09 Apr 2020 | Covid-19 Site Risk Assessment & Prompt Sheet
Progress has been made since PCS withdrew bulletin 43 due to change of Health and Safety (H&S) guidance and further negotiation with the senior DWP H&S managers.

The change of guidance was that the HSE have decided that in some cases Coronavirus is RIDDOR reportable.  This is when an unintended incident at work has led to someone’s possible or actual exposure to coronavirus. To be RIDDOR reportable there needs to be a completed accident report under ill health and dangerous occurrence.
It is management’s responsibility to undertake the investigation and take any remedial action involving the local PCS H&S reps in the investigation as Sodexo’s remit does not cover ill health.  The line manager can complete the accident form in the member’s absence – we would expect this needs to happen in the majority of cases as the member with coronavirus symptoms will have been sent straight home. Whilst management’s view of the HSE guidance, which varies from our view, is the likelihood that there will need to be a RIDDOR report for Coronavirus is extremely low if at all from the DWP.

They did agree that the fact that there is a potential corvid-19 case in the workplace gives an ideal opportunity for the local manager and PCS rep to investigate and review the control measures and make sure they are working effectively. The DWP guidance on what should be done following a potential case of Corvid-19 in the workplace is based on social distancing and good hygiene measures being properly and effectively in place. If these measures are not in place then further measures should urgently be discussed to stop the spread of the virus in the workplace and protect the safety of members.

In this briefing we recognise that we need to involve all of our depleted numbers of reps in the workplaces who have a varying range of experience in H&S. We have worded it to be helpful to everyone in this work and endeavoured to cover the areas where we have had the most queries so bear with us for stating the obvious in some instances.
Remember that coronavirus activity is currently classed as official time so there should be no problem with your release or time to carry out these activities.

Risk Assessment
We have not been able to reach agreement on the Risk Assessment (RA) as the only one that has been produced is to amend the JCFRA.  PCS is bemused why this should be the case unless there are offices that do not have a risk assessment to review. 
All sites should have valid risk assessment that is reviewed annually or when there is an incidence.  They should either have a JCFRA, a site and CHRA or a Co-location RA.  These risk assessments should cover all parts of the business on that site and the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) is liable if there is non-compliance.  Some sites have already reviewed their site RA due to the crisis which was the correct thing to do, but many others have not.
This is why specific guidance has now had to be produced to ensure all DWP sites risk assess the impact of the coronavirus and what measures need to be put in place to protect all DWP staff and the public.

Health and Safety Prompt Sheet
Despite not being able to agree on the risk assessment we have since worked with senior DWP H&S managers on the content of H&S Prompt sheet for all sites to use in conjunction with the RA form. This covers nearly all the items we had wanted to be contained in the risk assessment and requires signatures of both the local PCS H&S Rep and the local management. 
These signatures can be electronic and the meetings should take place following social distancing guidelines.  In sites where the only rep is not health and safety trained they can be offered support from branch or regional H&S reps who could dial in from other sites.
The local knowledge of the site is invaluable in discussing what specific control measures would work in that site given each site varies so much. Where the reps with the knowledge of the site are based on a different site they can arrange to have the discussion about the risk assessment with the local manager by phone or skype. 

We have provided the H&SBP team with the details of who to contact in each region and nation if managers are struggling to find a local rep to do the risk assessment with, so that PCS can find a rep to cover the meeting to discuss the risk assessment for the site.  We have attached the Prompt Sheet to this briefing and the headings below will cover some of the issues.

Access and Egress
It’s really important that people do not crowd together in doorways and that they also maintain social distancing in corridors or on stairs.  We are in a crisis situation and it’s important that we do all we can to keep ourselves and our colleagues safe.
Lifts are a particular hotspot and in the main they would only be able to take one person at a time unless they are particularly big.  Make sure there is a process to keep the buttons clean.

Handwashing  
Whilst it is important for everyone to continue to regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and hot water and use hand towels to dry your hands, every site should also have additional measures to help all staff keep their hands clean. You should check that hand sanitiser has been supplied to the site and is effectively placed in the site. Hand sanitiser stocks are now being co-ordinated centrally and we have been assured that supplies are being sent to the SRO and/or Facilities manager for each site.
The problem is that after washing your hands and exiting every toilet and many of the other areas with sinks you need to open doors and touch hard surfaces etc. before you can return to your workstation.  A control measure to deal with this is for staff to use paper towels to open doors which they should bin properly and then use hand sanitiser when they get back to their workstations.
There should also be soap in kitchens and tea points – this is not automatically supplied under the facilities management but needs to be obtained so that all staff can wash their hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before preparing and eating food.

Cleaning
There should be enhanced cleaning processes being done in all our offices.  This means touchpoint cleaning (doors, door handles, data locks, sinks, taps, soap dispensers, tea point fixtures, and desks etc.) throughout the working day.  If this is not happening this should be raised locally and escalated.Staff are responsible for cleaning their own computer, keyboard and mouse and chair with wipes.  Phones should not be shared.

We are still in talks about deep cleaning and there will be a further bulletin on this later in the week. Hot desking should be avoided as this can help spread the virus. If a member of staff is off and someone else will be using that desk there should be a thorough clean of desks and equipment prior to another person using it.

You should seek assurances that there are plenty of cleaning materials for all staff to clean their own workstation kit on site. We have had feedback that the cleaning regime on some of the co-located sites is well below the standards being introduced into the DWP buildings so this should be raised with local managers in the risk assessment process as well as highlighting the details with Group office.

Social Distancing
This is one of the key areas where management need to work closely with PCS H&S reps. It is essential that this is done properly to protect all of us and our families. 
Everyone has to have at least a 2 metre (6 foot) space around them in all directions at all times from other people in the site.  In Wales this has become law this week and all DWP workplaces are required to comply with these guidelines and legislation. Social distancing is important for all interactions between staff in the site (as well as outside) and must be maintained at all times.
This means that local managers and PCS H&S reps need to discuss how to ensure these guidelines are adhered to at all times throughout the site. 

To help ensure staff are properly spaced out across the site a rule of thumb can be used that staff cannot sit at desks next to one another nor directly opposite. Depending on the size of the desks diagonally opposite should help staff keep 2m apart from their colleagues.  Care must be taken to ensure the 2m space also applies between staff sat back to back.

Desks and IT kit may need to be moved to ensure that the 2m spacing in all directions around each member of staff can be complied with.  Attention also needs to be paid to entry points to the building, stairwells, corridors and lifts to keep the 2m spacing between all staff at all points. Unless the lift in a site is exceptionally large there is likely to be a need to introduce measures for only one person to use the lift at a time, the same may apply to flights of stairs.   

The 2m spacing also needs to be applied to areas such as toilets, breakout areas, tea-points and photocopiers. Any meetings or training that are held should only be held in rooms with sufficient space to allow all staff to be 2 metres apart. Where this becomes more difficult to organise, other means of communication can be explored like using skype meetings to involve more than just a few staff. This recognises that interaction and discussion between staff is also important, to address how to deal with issues and processes in the best possible way together.

The public facing areas in jobcentres should have the 2m spacing clearly marked out with tape to ensure that the public we are still seeing face to face can readily see how far they need to remain from staff.  Using tape can also be useful as a reminder of the space that needs to be kept between staff in all sites such as around tea-points, photocopiers etc. It may be worth spreading out the seating in canteens and break out areas so that there are consistent reminders to everyone to remain 2m apart from others.  

There is plenty for the local managers and PCS H&S reps to discuss in how to implement social distancing properly and make it work in the specific site. To properly introduce social distancing, it is likely that at most half of the normal staffing levels for the site can be safely accommodated on a site and it is likely to be a lot lower numbers than this given the shape of a lot of sites.

There should be a discussion about the safe maximum staffing levels that a site can safely accommodate with social distancing. In sites with too many staff to be safely accommodated, urgent discussions need to take place to ensure that maximum safe staffing levels are not exceeded.
PCS reps should argue for the extra staff to be sent home whilst solutions can be sought for them to keep all sites safe for all. No members of staff should be sent to or arrive in sites without notice so that it can be checked beforehand that there is sufficient room for them to be accommodated safely.  In some sites there will be extra space and it is a good idea to mark out desks that can be safely used using social distancing for additional staff.

PCS is pushing for the means to enable as many staff to work from home as possible and thus avoid the risks of travelling to and from work and mixing with other people in the workplace all day. As far as possible those not working from home should be working from their home office as this helps spread staff out evenly across all sites. As the main focus of the department is to prioritise delivering payments to the public whilst keeping us all safe, all sites will be playing a similar part in helping to deliver on this.   

There may be some instances where it is easier and safer for an individual to remain in work if they could work from a site that is closer to where they live. It is essential that proper discussion takes place between the line manager and managers in the potential new site to see if this is feasible, work can be done from the alternative site and support given and that the move can be done safely, before any action is taken.

Training  
Training space also has to take account of social distancing and can be delivered in a number of safe ways.  Trainers or mentors should support staff through remote methods.
If members have not dealt with the public before then they must do the keeping safe training.  If they have not done telephony work before to the extent that we are now doing it for speaking to the public or each other, they need to ensure that they have headsets (whilst awaiting headsets it is essential that staff take additional DSE breaks to avoid musculo-skeletal disorders trying to hold your phone between your ear and neck whilst typing)
There is a lot of detail in the DWP Contact Centre H&S Framework which covers all staff who are doing a lot of work on the phone whilst also using a computer. Staff doing new work need to be supported and be aware of where and how they can get support remotely, understand the processes around the six-point plan and how to report incidents via the Unacceptable Customer Behaviour process.

Fire and Bomb and First Aid  
With so many people off the numbers and spread of fire and bomb wardens and first aiders need to be kept constantly under review to ensure this meets the needs of the site.  Fire alarms should continue to be tested.
Fire doors must never be propped open as their purpose is to help save lives in the event of a fire in the building. As there is no intention to do drills during this crisis it is vital that assurance is done that all staff are familiar with the evacuation procedures and routes and all new staff to the site need to be made fully aware. It is worth checking if the muster points are suitable and large enough to accommodate social distancing.
If the muster point is moved, again it is vital that all staff know where the revised muster point is.  All normal safety rules apply. These rules also apply when overtime is being worked.
First Aid boxes need to be checked to ensure that there is sufficient supplies and stock of gloves and after checking the boxes need to be cleaned.  First aiders must take all precautions to maintain their safety as well as preserving the safety of staff. We have raised that masks would be helpful for first aiders in the current time and will continue to have discussions at national level about measures to help protect first aiders and those they are helping.

PEEPS (personal emergency evacuation plans)
If someone has a PEEP these need to be reviewed in the light of the impact of covid-19.  Checks need to be made to see whether their buddy(ies) are consistently on site and in the right place.  Can the buddy safely help the member out in case of evacuation at the same time as maintaining social distancing.  Should the person with the PEEP still be in work?  The plan in place has to be safe for all involved.

Stress, Anxiety and Welfare
 

There is a lot of advice on the intranet and via the PAM site.  In the risk assessment process it is important to ensure that measures are taken to keep everyone aware of the support that is available in what is a challenging and stressful situation. Support should be given to team leaders to help them support all of their team in the workplace and at home.
It can be stressful being isolated at home and encouraging team leaders and teams to take proactive supportive measures to involve everyone including those at home can help alleviate this sources of stress.  It would be worth highlighting that PCS reps can assist individuals with their stress self-assessment and access the procedures to get support.

What can assist members get through this stressful situation is to be trusted and valued to do their work. It would be worth raising any instances of micro-management and pressure with targets etc. which run counter to a supportive approach for staff. This can increase the levels of anxiety and do not help with promoting the health, safety and welfare of all staff during this period.  All staff should be encouraged to take all their breaks.

There are also other measures that may need to be considered to address the circumstances that Corvid-19 is creating for staff - like difficulties with public transport getting into work, difficulties getting food supplies or bank services after work which a flexible, supportive approach from managers can really assist with.

General Health and Safety
There are general principles that can help avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Routine visits to sites should be postponed. Staff should remain in their home sites and keep in touch with the rest of their team on other sites via phone and skype rather than travelling between sites. 
Only essential maintenance work should be taking place on sites and sites should be given advance notice of planned visits of contractors which should help ensure that routine non-essential work can be delayed until after the crisis. The normal workplace inspections will not be taking place for the time being to avoid Facilities Managers travelling from site to site as they could be spreading the virus. 

They should only come to sites for urgent issues.  PCS reps should avoid going to other sites but ensure that they are fully supporting members and other reps remotely as far as is possible by phone, email or skype.  PCS branches can escalate issues that cannot be resolved locally and we can work to raise with national management to get things sorted. We do not want you to have to put yourself at risk.  If you need evidence get members to take a photo and send it to you.  But you must ensure you do not breach any security protocols. 

We also do not want to see managers visiting a number of sites as it does not raise morale.  It scares people when their leaders cannot follow the safety rules.
Business continuity plans and LIMPs should reflect the new guidance and should be shared with PCS reps.

Reviews
PCS negotiators are conscious that this is a continuously developing situation dealing with Corvid-19 and the consequences in increased workloads and demand on the DWP. Whilst we want managers on every site to discuss and complete the Corvid-19 Risk Assessment in conjunction with PCS H&S reps to ensure that control measures are properly introduced in every site to deal with the risk this situation poses. 
It is also crucial that good consultation is continued to respond to the developing situation and to address new processes that are planned. In this way control measures can be kept up to date and the effectiveness of the measures kept under review as necessary.
If there are any issues that branches cannot resolve locally, please escalate them to Group office urgently.


09 Apr 2020 | Coronavirus: Annual Leave Update
DWP have recently issued revised guidance which brings a detrimental change for those that have been awarded Special Leave with Pay (SLWP) during the Covid19 period. 
The cap that was lifted to enable staff to take accrued leave throughout the 12 month period following the end of the leave year, has now been replaced for those that have needed to take SLWP.  This guidance puts a requirement on staff that have disabilities, underlying conditions, and caring responsibilities to take accrued leave within the leave year.

PCS is disappointed that as talks with Cabinet Office have not yet concluded, this guidance has been issued ahead of the close of national negotiations on annual leave, and we will raise all of the concerns that our members have brought immediately with DWP.

The group executive committee assures you that throughout this time of worry and uncertainty, your union is still keeping ahead of the game. We are working around the clock to ensure your needs are met and your health and safety protected – that is our main priority.


08 Apr 2020 | PCS guidance on observing Ramadan during the coronavirus crisis
As we begin the countdown to Ramadan 2020, which begins on 23 April, we are in the midst of the coronavirus, so read the latest PCS guidance on fasting and praying while working. 

Flexible hours
Government departments and many public sector organisations have good flexible working hours and Muslim staff may request different daily hours. The most likely need Muslim staff may present to managers during Ramadan is for flexibility around working hours and break times. Of course, this should be by prior arrangement with managers and their ability to accommodate these requests should be balanced against business needs.

Taking time to pray
All Muslims rise very early to eat and drink before the fast begins, this year it will be at around 3am. Some staff may request the opportunity to start work and end work early, particularly as is the case for some key workers so they can leave work and return home to pray. As we are all currently under restrictions due to the coronavirus, all mosques have closed to the public, if these restrictions continue into and throughout Ramadan then Muslim colleagues will not be able to go to their mosque on a Friday for compulsory prayers. They can complete their normal midday prayers in the office prayer room provided for personal use, while observing social distancing, if they are still required to go into work to do important work, or at home.

Weekend overtime
Staffing changes have been introduced in some places due to increased workloads because of the coronavirus so members have been asked to work overtime at weekends during Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr. Overtime must be done voluntarily and PCS has received assurances no one will be forced to work overtime. If you have any issues or feel you have been forced to work overtime contact your rep, whose details you can find by logging in to PCS Digital.

Annual leave for Eid
Eid ul-Fitr, also called the "Festival of breaking the fast", is a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramada.
Many Muslim staff will want to take Eid as annual leave. Edi is a 3-day festival although most Muslims take just the first day as holiday. Until the new moon is sighted, the dates are estimated but it will fall on Saturday, 23 May or Sunday, 24 May. As Eid falls on a weekend, Muslim staff who work at weekends may want Saturday off and some may wish to take additional days in the last week of Ramadan to spend time preparing for Eid.   
Due to the increasing burden on leave requirements it is important that Muslim staff give enough notice for time off because of the coronavirus crisis, once you know Ramadan and Eid dates you should contact your line manager and discuss the time off, don’t leave it too late and still expect to get the time off. 


03 Apr 2020 | Safety Q and A
We are dealing with a lot of queries and reps at all levels have been working non-stop to support members. We are responding as quickly as we can. We are working to regularly update members on some of the common questions and will keep updating the information as the coronavirus crisis continues.
We are keen to translate the commitment from senior DWP management into reality that the health, safety and well-being of staff is paramount and the priority of the department.  As key workers supporting the public then it is vital that our members are safe in our workplaces and everything is done to support members.  PCS is issuing a lot of bulletins to update members on what is being done and the progress that is being made on the issues affecting you.  If you have any issues or concerns you should raise them with your local branch PCS reps who can escalate any problems that cannot be resolved locally to national negotiators. This bulletin deals with some of the common queries that we have been receiving recently.
Q.  I have a recognised underlying health condition and my manager is forcing me to go home when I want to work. Can they do this?
A.  PCS briefing DWP/MB/032/20 confirms government and departmental guidance that all people with underlying health conditions (in the published list) MUST remain at home/go home in a bid to prevent them catching/spreading coronavirus. The union is fully supportive of this measure as vulnerable workers are not only more likely to suffer severe symptoms of this deadly disease, but are also a potential danger to others. The union urges our members who fit in to this vulnerable category to stay at home as we play our part in preventing the spread of Covid 19.  PCS are working with the department to find more solutions so that members can work from home safely.
Q. I have had a claimant come into the jobcentre saying they have Covid 19 and had to come in because we haven't answered their query. What should we do?
A. Jobcentres should now only be open to the most vulnerable customers who cannot contact us online or by phone and all offices should be adhering to mandatory social distancing measures – customers should be seen in a screened area wherever possible.   If a customer attends stating they have Covid 19 they must be told to go home immediately and self-isolate – keeping the 2 metre safe distance, minimal details should be taken to ensure telephone contact can be made to enable the query to be addressed.
Should the customer refuse to remove themselves from the office, the Fast Track process should be immediately implemented, and the police called as this person is knowingly spreading the disease.
Q.  Managers in my office have been ringing staff who are self-isolating and telling them they have to come in as they haven’t taken sick-leave during the year.
A.  Hopefully this process has stopped and all staff with the listed underlying health conditions have been sent home, with no exceptions as they are at increased risk of severe illness from Coronavirus.  If this unreasonable behaviour continues, please notify group office.
Q. I am worried about the way the cleaning is done in my office as a damp cloth is used to clean all the desks, and the door handles are not being cleaned.
A. It has been agreed that the cleaning regime will be enhanced. PCS are aware that our hard-working cleaners require the tools to do the job and the hours to do the work to ensure they can clean to the necessary standard.
Cleaners should be using disinfectant as well as water to carry out the cleaning process; wet cloths should be cleaned regularly, the area should be buffed dry with a dry clean cloth.  Hard surfaces that are touched by a lot of staff are being cleaned on a daily basis such as door handles, push plates, taps, soap dispensers, desks and phones.  In between cleans there must be control measures in place for staff in the form of hand sanitiser or antiseptic wipes – if managers cannot source these products they should discuss with the local TU reps what measure they will take to ensure staff safety whilst they obtain supplies.
Q.  There has been a confirmed case of Covid 19 in my office - what is the process?
A.  If someone has the symptoms of a high temperature and/ or a new continuous cough they need to go home immediately and stay home to self-isolate.  Self-isolation is 7 days for all those with symptoms. Other members of the same household as the individual with symptoms will need to need to stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days.  If they in turn develop symptoms they would also need to remain at home for 7 days from the day that they first exhibit symptoms There are some people who have the symptoms for longer and they should take advice from NHS111 about what is safe to do at the end of the 7 days.  The need for every site to rigorously apply social distancing and enable all members to keep apart by at least 2 metres should help prevent the spread in the workplace. Anyone who has provided support to the individual showing symptoms should thoroughly wash their hands.  Any surfaces the individual showing symptoms has come into contact with should be cleaned thoroughly with disinfectant and disposable cloths including the shared areas like tea points, door handles, rails, toilet areas, as well as their workstation area.  Scientific guidance states that the virus can stay on hard surfaces for several days so all measures must be taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Q.  I have been told that I will be needed to do other more critical work I don’t think it will be safe to be trained in a classroom situation.
A.  We have had some consultation on trying to get as many people as possible onto critical work and that means training.  We have had assurances that training will only be delivered in rooms that are big enough to allow social distancing and that the trainer will also maintain the 2 metres distance.  Other training will be delivered electronically and via Skype.
Q.  I have so much work to do that I am feeling extremely stressed.
A.  Stress can be an extremely debilitating condition and measures should be put in place at the earliest opportunity to address the causes.  There is a lot of critical work to be done but you should not put undue pressure on yourself as you can only do what you can do.  It is important that you take your paid breaks and your lunch break.  If it’s safe to get some fresh air or some exercise in your lunch break do so but make sure you keep 2 metres from your colleagues and other people. It is important that managers and members should be alert to the potential signs of stress and managers can be proactive in providing support to team members showing signs of stress.  PCS reps can also assist members to complete the individual stress risk assessment and support members to discuss with their team leader about the key factors causing the stress and potential solutions that can be put in place to remove or reduce these issues in a jointly agreed stress management plan. Whilst the current priority of the department is to deliver payments of benefit to the public there should be no additional pressures being put on individuals that make it harder to deliver services to the public when it is so busy. Members should report instances of a target driven approach or micromanagement that is impeding them doing their jobs to local PCS reps.
Q.  I work in a jobcentre where we are now doing telephone interviews. Should we have headsets?
A.  Yes, headsets should be provided if you are doing mainly telephony work and they should be assigned to the individual - headsets must not under any circumstances be shared with anyone else.  The mouth-piece should be cleaned regularly and processes followed for earpieces, dependant on the type of headset. There is full guidance available on the intranet regarding this.
A number of offices have said there is a delay on headsets - unless you are working in a room on your own and can use speaker phone, you need to take safety breaks between calls. Using a normal handset to take a lot of calls whilst typing without taking regular breaks can cause repetitive strain injuries. The potential consequences of this could be permanent injury, so make sure you are taking regular breaks between the calls.
Q.  My office is not adhering to the 2 metre social distancing rule, what should I do?
A.  We have been assured that the social distancing rule is paramount and the direction has come from the Prime Minister.  If your office is not complying firstly speak to your local manager or local PCS rep.  If no action is taken to solve the problem escalate to DWP Group office  leeds@pcs.org.uk
We would like to thank all PCS reps who are doing a sterling job keeping the work places as safe as possible in these difficult times, and thank all the members who are doing their best to get money to those that need it,


07 Apr 2020 | PCS coronavirus central response team launches 
To support our members during the Covid-19 emergency we are changing the way we work so that we can respond to questions much more quickly to give the answers members need straightaway and where necessary act to keep them safe.

From this week, and for the duration of this crisis, our centralised response team will be the first point of contact for members’ coronavirus related queries and representation requests.

There will be guidance and advice all in one place online, answering members’ frequently asked questions, which will be updated regularly to reflect a situation that is changing rapidly. This will be prominently promoted on the home page of the PCS website and on our social media channels.
Over the last few weeks members have contacted us with understandable concerns about their safety and well-being at this extremely difficult time. Our newly-created team will offer guidance and advice when members need it. Where our database of questions does not answer questions or concerns members will also be able to log issues through a case management system by logging in to PCS Digital.

Once logged in you will see a landing page with an ‘Ask a question’ link, start to write your question in the box and you will see suggested answers which link to articles. If it’s not quite what you’re looking for you can submit ‘a case’ and our team will get to work on your case, but please bear with us as we are expecting a lot of cases.

Bargaining, campaigning and organising
A new bargaining team will ensure a consistent approach to the coronavirus crisis across all employers in the civil service and related areas. Engaging with employers is pivotal to ensure members are protected and their interests advanced.

The new organising and campaigning team will also use digital solutions to create new activists’ networks – virtual PCS Locals – using chat tools, and develop online organising and campaigning training, as well as webinars and briefings for reps.

The temporary reshaping of our front line staffing is designed to support our members in the best way possible to help them to adapting to the new circumstances.

If you have specific questions about your employer, in the first instance visit the PCS employer group page on this website.

It is a very important time to be a union member, so join PCS online today.


2 April 2020 | Coronavirus: School closures/dependant care
DWP/MB/042/20
Following a number of queries earlier in the week, regarding revised guidance issued by DWP concerning the impact of school issues, DWP/MB/039/20 outlined the anger PCS and our members felt at the imposed new advice to managers.
In particular the significant change in emphasis from applying paid special leave - to deal with cases were DWP staff could not carry on with their "normal" caring/schooling arrangements - to only allowing it in "exceptional circumstances" created real worry and anger amongst members.

Negotiations with DWP
As members will be aware, PCS immediately responded to DWP on your behalf and have been in dialogue pressing for amendments to the harsher guidance issued last Friday, providing examples of where managers have been over-zealous in its application.

The discussions between the unions and the employer, which are continuing as a matter of urgency, have been positive and PCS believe there is a shared understanding of the importance of any guidance emphasising support for staff, rather than instruction to them.
In particular we have been discussing revised guidance around those members who's children can't attend their normal school; are pre-school and have never been to nursery or a minder before; or whose children's wellbeing could be placed at risk.

Advice to members
PCS are hopeful that the revised guidance will be available and published by the end of the week, and we will issue a further briefing once the position has been finalised.

In the meantime PCS would draw member’s attention to the latest Cabinet Office guidance for Civil Servants which states: "Following announced school closures, line managers should be fully supportive of employees, considering flexible working arrangements, including working from home, adapting working patterns to care for children. If an employee is required to take time off to care for children due to school closures, paid special leave should be applied."

PCS acknowledge that the roles we carry out in DWP are of vital importance to the millions of citizens who rely on benefits to survive, and we are clear that the pressure our department is currently under due to nearly a million new claims is unprecedented. 

As a result we understand the importance of facilitating for as many DWP staff as possible to continue administering the benefits system. In light of this PCS would encourage our members to do all they can to find suitable and safe alternative arrangements, if your usual school or childcare provision is not available, and work with your line manager to see what alternatives and flexibilities are available, in line with the above Cabinet Office guidance.

However, PCS is clear that if you cannot find a suitable alternative, that ensures the safety and welfare of your child are protected, you should speak to your manager about paid special leave which should be applied in these circumstances.

PCS will issue further detailed guidance once negotiations are completed, but in the meantime you should continue to raise any issues with your local PCS representative, who can escalate to group if it cannot be resolved locally.

Martin Cavanagh, DWP Group President | Angela Grant, DWP Group Assistant Secretary


Earlier advice