Wednesday, 10 June 2020

CORONA VIRUS ADVICE

PCS corona advice


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

Government official advice regarding the Corona Virus


31 July 2020 |PCS to hold Consultative Ballot on the Extending of Operating Hours and Safety in Universal Credit and Jobcentres 
DWP/MB/109/20
To: All Members and GEC, Department for Work & Pensions Group

The Group Executive Committee (GEC) met on 30th July and has agreed to hold a consultative ballot in reaction to the DWP decision to extend services in Jobcentres and extend operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit (UC) Service Centres from 30 November 2020. The ballot will be a consultative vote to get the views of all members in Jobcentres and the 21 UC Service Centres. It is not a strike ballot. It will commence on Monday 17 August 2020 and close on Monday 7 September 2020. DWP have informed PCS that all Jobcentres, subject to viability, will extend their operating hours at some point in the future. All members in scope for this consultative ballot are strongly encouraged to vote YES in the ballot in order that pressure is put on the employer to withdraw their decision.

The GEC have been critical of the DWP in deciding to firstly re-open the doors of Jobcentres during the pandemic and now to extend operating hours. PCS are strongly opposed to the extension of operating hours on the following grounds:

•    Safety - during a global pandemic, with many eminent scientists predicting a second wave of COVID-19 in the winter months and as evidence grows of a rise in infection rates, we believe it is wrong to extend operating hours, or to re-open job centres to the public, at this time as it would be putting the safety of our members at risk when there is no requirement to do so. 


•    Equality for part-year members – deciding to hold a 5 week planning period when most part-year staff will not be at work will undoubtedly put those members at a disadvantage when their working patterns will be decided. They will be excluded entirely from the planning process that determines when they may have to work to 8pm or on Saturdays. DWP have failed to carry out an equality analysis which is directly disadvantaging those members with a protective characteristic who will be absent from work during the month of August. PCS will be seeking legal advice on this issue.

•    Failure to identify a business requirement to extend operating hours - PCS do not accept that there is evidence of any customer demand of DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays from the end of November. Where opening hours in Jobcentres have been extended previously, customer take-up was so low that the Jobcentres reverted to their normal opening hours. There is no evidence that the increase in UC claimants means that there will be a demand to communicate with DWP at different times of the day. PCS welcome the indication from DWP that the telephone opening hours will not be extended beyond 6pm, but it demonstrates that there is no requirement for staff to stay until 8pm. No Jobcentre should open beyond 5pm until an agreed risk assessment is in place. 


•    Failure to meaningfully consult with the unions – During the pandemic PCS has met DWP at least twice a week and successfully negotiated improvements for staff on a wide range of issues such as health and safety, annual leave and personnel policy changes.  DWP is required to meaningfully consult PCS on any proposed change to opening hours. Appallingly DWP only gave PCS 48 hours’ notice in advance of the announcement to extend operating hours. They have made clear that they do not intend to meaningfully consult with your union to justify their decision and plan to impose it. That is not acceptable. It is bad industrial relations by the DWP. 

PCS acknowledge DWP can invoke extended operating hours under the Employee Deal, if they have a legitimate operational requirement, but while the pandemic continues the health and safety of our members is our primary concern and should be DWPs. This decision to extend operating increases the risk to our members, other colleagues who work in our offices and the public who use our Jobcentres. PCS will continue to oppose both the decision to extend services in Jobcentres and extend operating hours until it is safe to do. The safety of our members will always come first and is paramount in everything we do.

PCS submit demands in letter to DWP
The GEC have written to the DWP tabling the following demands and stating that if they do not agree by 17 August 2020 we will regard that as creating a trade dispute:

a)    The DWP withdraw their notice to staff to extend operating hours to 8pm, Monday to Friday, and a Saturday in 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres from 30 November 2020.
b)    No escalation of footfall in the Jobcentre estate and only interviews with those identified as the most vulnerable are invited in to Jobcentres throughout the course of the pandemic.
c)    The easements put in place during the pandemic, which have allowed the focus to be on paying benefits to those who need them, continue with no escalation in Labour Market activity.
d)    Meaningful consultation on the demand to extend services and the risk assessment process to take place nationally prior to any formal notice issued to staff.
e)    A full equality analysis to be carried out on both the extended hours and re-opening of Jobcentres in consultation with PCS and identified risks fully mitigated.

Vote YES in the consultative ballot
A good turnout in the consultative ballot is vitally important if we are to be successful in forcing DWP to reverse their decisions. This ballot is not about voting to take industrial action. No industrial action can be called by PCS until a legal statutory ballot is held, but we have heard our members concerns over these recent announcements and remain fully committed to engaging with you during these difficult times.

If PCS have your email address you will receive an email telling you how to vote. If we don’t have your email address you will get a letter explaining how you can vote on line or by post.

Please make every effort to vote and in doing so send a message to the DWP that we don’t agree to their re-opening of Job centres to the public or their extending operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres.

Please speak with any non-members in your office and ask them to join the union as the stronger and more organised we are, the better chance we have of success.

Please look out for and attend any socially distanced members’ meetings that are held at your office, and for further communications from the GEC in the coming weeks. You can either vote online, if PCS holds your personal email address, or by post.


VOTE YES IN THE CONSULTATIVE BALLOT – VOTE YES FOR SAFETY
Martin Cavanagh, Group President       
Ian Pope,  Group Assistant Secretary               
Ian Bartholomew, Group Secretary




30 Jul 2020 | Warm weather working and Coronavirus



With temperatures set to rise over the summer, guidance has been issued for keeping workplaces cool but also safe.

Whether you are working in your usual workplace or working from home, it is important to understand the measures that your employer should take, and what you can do, to protect yourself from the effects of high temperatures while also preventing the spread of coronavirus.

In the workplace

General ventilation
Employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace and good ventilation can help reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading. Where possible, you should look at ways to increase the supply of fresh air to your workplace, for example by opening windows and doors (except fire doors). You can also improve the circulation of air by using ceiling fans or desk fans, but this should be in conjunction with good ventilation.

Air conditioning
The risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus is extremely low as long as there is an adequate supply of fresh air and ventilation. You can continue using most types of air conditioning systems as normal, but it is recommended that you turn off recirculation and use a fresh air supply. If you’re unsure, speak to your heating and air conditioning engineer or maintenance contractor.

Working from home
If you are working from home you also need to protect yourself against the risks of high temperatures.
Think about how you might be able to keep your home cool:

  • shade or cover windows exposed to direct sunlight
  • move to a cooler part of the house, especially for sleeping
  • it may be cooler outside in the shade; think about spending some time outdoors
  • open windows when the air feels cooler outside than inside. Try to get air flowing through the home.
  • turn off lights or electrical equipment that you’re not using, as these can increase the temperature of your home.
Some symptoms of heat-related illnesses, such as a high temperature, headache, loss of appetite, dizziness or shortness of breath can be similar to symptoms of COVID-19. If you or someone else feels unwell during hot weather, you should consider the possibility of heat-related illnesses. If, however, you suspect that you have COVID-19 you should find out how to get tested.

More information can be found on the HSE , Public Health England and NHS websites.







PCS has told the Cabinet Office we are not prepared to accept attempts to force more civil servants back into work without detailed assurances about how their safety will be ensured if they have to return to their workplace.

The head of the civil service Alex Chisholm has written to all permanent secretaries this week to say that after Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation urging people back into work the civil service needed to see an acceleration of people returning to work.

We told the Cabinet Office in a meeting yesterday that this 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.

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. Further talks will take place next week.

Clear advice
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.

Contact your local rep, or contact our coronavirus response centre, or you can email responseteam@pcs.org.uk where we will be able to advise you about your options.
We are determined, having come so far in this pandemic and having done so well to deliver public services, that we do not throw away members’ safety because of the demands of politicians. 

We will issue more advice next week and you can get more guidance and support, and get your questions answered, at our Facebook live event at 7pm on Thursday (30). Email your question to editor@pcs.org.uk


23 July 2020 | PCS condemns decision to extend operating hours in UC from Nov 30.
DWP briefing DWP/MB/106/20 | To: All Members in DWP Group.

DWP has announced its intention to extend operating hours to 8pm on weekdays, and to Saturdays, at 21 Universal Credit Service Centres and 270 larger Jobcentres, from 30 November 2020. 

Other parts of the department not working on UC will not be affected. UC Service Centres delivering national services will be excluded from this extension, as will smaller Job Centres.

PCS believes that it is irresponsible to even consider doing this while the country remains in the grip of the pandemic. With many eminent scientists warning of a second spike of Covid 19 in the winter months it would be putting the safety of our members at risk to extend operating hours in this way.

No customer demand
PCS does not accept that there is evidence of customer demand on any significant scale for DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays. Where opening hours in job centres have been extended previously, customer take-up was so low that the job centres reverted to their normal opening hours. The fact that there are now more UC claimants does not mean they will now want to communicate with DWP at different times of the day.

DWP has said that telephone opening hours will not be extended beyond 6pm, which is welcome. But it does beg the question as to why staff will be expected to stay to 8pm when no calls will be received after 6pm and any processing work could as easily be done earlier in the day.

No clarity on job centre opening hours
DWP is unclear what this will mean for Jobcentre opening hours after 5pm. When pressed on this by PCS UC management’s response was to say that this would be a matter for the local leadership and not be decided at a national level, though they did say that job centres will be open to the public on Saturdays. 

As with deciding to reopen Jobcentres, national management have abdicated responsibility and instead pushed the responsibility down to Jobcentre managers to decide whether to open after 5 pm. PCS believes there is no justification in extending the hours the doors in Jobcentres will be open to after 5pm. Any claimant who can only be seen after 5pm could be seen on a by exception basis.

DWP intends to use the 5 weeks from 27 July to 30 August to seek staff’s preferences and hold team discussions to enable them to issue a six monthly working pattern to all UC staff at the end of August to give staff the three months’ notice of their working pattern prior to 30 November.

Unfair treatment of Part Year staff
In deciding this timetable management have ignored the fact that most part year staff will not be at work for the whole of the 5 week planning period when their working pattern will be decided. This excludes them entirely from the planning process that decides when they may have to work to 8pm or on Saturdays. 

Despite claiming to consider equality issues to be of great importance DWP has again shown that in practice it does not care about equality and is prepared to put part year staff at a significant disadvantage. When pressed on this by PCS, DWP did not even acknowledge that this was a problem, simply saying that they have to start sometime. It is disgraceful to treat part year staff so disrespectfully,

Safeguards will apply
PCS will ensure that all the safeguards negotiated as part of the Employee Deal will continue to apply including:
● No more than one late finish in 5 working days
● No more than one Saturday in 4 weeks
● Not to fix both ends of the day
● Assumed consent to continue to apply
● Staff to be able to choose the day that they have off in either the week preceding, or following, any Saturday worked. This includes the Monday following the Saturday.
● Not to make staff work more than 5 days in a working week
● Staff to continue to have access to the Independent Panel to resolve disputes over working patterns.
Opted out staff cannot be made to work beyond their contractual working hours or contractual working days.

Members’ safety
PCS is particularly concerned about the health and safety issues raised by extended working, realising that many of DWP’s offices are located in areas where it is unsafe to be leaving work at 8pm, or where Saturday working may cause additional risk. PCS will be pressing for site by site risk assessments to be held as soon as possible. Branches who believe they have a site that should be excluded from late or Saturday working on safety grounds should notify Group office.

Next Steps
PCS understands that this announcement will be very unwelcome for our members in the sites that are affected. PCS will continue to argue that now is not the right time to extend operating hours and will seek further clarification on the safety and equality concerns that we have. In doing this we will seek to arrange virtual meetings were we can with reps and members. Branches are encouraged to hold on site meetings with members, as long as social distancing can be ensured.

Charles Law - Industrial Officer  / Martin Cavanagh - Group President

15 July 2020 | Work and Health Update 
DWP briefing DWP/MB/103/20
To: All Members and GEC Department for Work & Pensions Group


Consultation Arrangements
As a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19), meetings with senior Operational management ceased as all negotiations dealt with issues covering the pandemic. Thankfully, after pressure from PCS, these very important Operations meeting have now been reinstated and the first one with senior Work and Health management since 26 February 2020 took place on 2 July 2020. This Members’ Bulletin provides a summary on the issues discussed.

Members Working from Home
The Group Executive Committee (GEC) have received numerous reports from members who are at home, but have not yet received the appropriate kit to work from home. The department have provided 19,500 Surface Pros to staff to enable them to work from home and are in discussions to look at the possibility of more being issued.
More Surface Pros being made available would be welcomed as this would allow more members to work from home.

Virtual Service Centre
The department set up a Virtual Service Centre (VSC) to help address the 2.5 million claims to Universal Credit (UC). The DWP redeployed 2,700 staff from other parts of DWP and Other Government Departments (OGD) to work from home in the VSC all working on UC, mainly as Case Managers. The grading at the VSC has varied from Grade 6 to AO, however the duties are graded at AO. Management advised that they have introduced a new Work Flow Co-ordinator role to provide support to the staff carrying out Case Manager duties. A number of members had raised concerns with PCS regarding the support mechanism and training that was provided as they had no benefit experience and no experience of dealing with the public. Hopefully this new Work Flow Co-ordinator role will provide the assistance required as will the new Technical Team Support, which will consist of experienced Case Managers. 

Front of House Grading
Jobcentre members will be well aware that PCS have been raising grading issues affecting this group of members for some time. Whether it be AO members who are or have been carrying out, what we have argued, Work Coach duties or Work Coaches carrying out work of the grade below them. Members may recall that updates have been provided in several bulletins over the past 18 months. We were advised in January 2020 that proposed job roles would be provided to us for comment. However, as a result of COVID-19 the priority of the department was to pay benefits and process an unprecedented amount of new claims and as a result all consultation on Work and Health issues were suspended. The GEC are still being contacted by AO members working in Jobcentres advising that they are still being asked to carry out, what both PCS and themselves consider Work Coach duties. PCS are determined to resolve this issue once and for all. As a result of PCS raising this issue once again at the Work and Health meeting, management have agreed to meet with us shortly to discuss a way forward. An update will be provided after this meeting.

Opening Hours for Telephony / Adherence to Workforce Manager Scheduling for Homeworkers
The GEC had received contact from members working from home who had been told that they had been scheduled and were finding it difficult to adhere to this due to circumstances such as looking after a small child. The view of senior DWP management is that local conversations are important and that all workers should be treated the same, whether they are in the office or at home. Any member working from home who is experiencing difficulty with any aspect of carrying out their duties should contact their line manager immediately and have a conversation with them with a view to getting the appropriate level of support. Any member in this position should contact their local PCS representative for support if the issue cannot be resolved. It is clear in the Softphone Health and Safety Impact Assessment document quoted below, that the public are entitled to privacy when we are dealing with them over the phone. If you have to have your workstation set up in the living areas of your home which are used by others during the day, then you cannot do telephony work as it would not be private. Similarly, even if you have a discrete area to work from but you have the responsibility for looking after children then doing telephony work is not appropriate. 

Employees who work from home but do not have privacy e.g. have children in the home, should not be required to make/receive calls from claimants.

Flexibility on working hours
Management have confirmed that flexibility is still being applied to working hours recognising that individuals continue to have difficulties as a result of covid-19 in doing their normal hours. Members have difficulties with the lack of public transport and the increasing congestion on public transport which is raising safety worries. Normal childcare and support has been made more difficult with covid-19 risks and family members shielding and the lack of play-schemes being run over the school holidays etc. You should let your team leader know about any issues that could impact on your working hours and can raise with your local PCS rep if the difficulties are not addressed.
PCS advice and support

Any member who works in Work and Health and requires assistance or is seeking clarification on anything included in this bulletin, please contact your local PCS representative in the first place or email operational.tus@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Ian Pope - Group Assistant Secretary
Katrine Williams - Group Vice-President

10 July 2020 | Working from home pilots

To: All Members in DWP / Department for Work & Pensions Group

DWP briefing DWP/MB/102/20


PCS has agreed for DWP to run pilots to test the longer term viability of combining working from home with working at the office. The aim is to test the impact of this on both the business and the members of staff and will be used to inform the department’s future planning and recruitment. The pilot will run for three months.

Increasing working from home helps to meet PCS’ current priority of maximising the numbers of members able to work from home as a safety measure during the ongoing pandemic. The pilot was also used to enable DWP to meet Treasury criteria to allow for the 2020 pay offer to access the full 2.5% as per the treasury remit, which the GEC have rejected.

At present working from home has been used as an emergency ad hoc reaction to the crisis. The aim of the pilot is to enable working from home in a more measured and planned way, especially in the light of the ongoing space restrictions in offices caused by the need to socially distance at work. 

A number of back of house and Jobcentre locations have been selected. They include UC, legacy, CMG and Pensions locations. At these locations management will seek volunteers to combine working from home with working from the office in one of four ways:
• One day per week in the office, four at home
• Two days a week in the office, three at home
• One week in four in the office, threat home
• One week in the office, one week at home
▪︎ Volunteers only
It is important to stress that this pilot is for volunteers only and no member should be pressurised to take part if they do not want to. If the pilots are over-subscribed DWP has developed criteria for selecting staff to work from home.

▪︎ Key criteria
• All current DWP HR policies will apply to staff working from home.
• The Employee Deal will continue to apply in the same way that it does in the office
• The health and safety and wellbeing of staff is of utmost importance throughout
• Home working risk assessments must be carried oun in all instances
• Full HR, operational and management support must be available
• A consistent approach must be followed in all instances
• Staff who do volunteer can change their mind at any time
• The work done at home will aim to resemble as closely as possible the work done in the office, though there will not be inbound telephony work done at home as part of this pilot

▪︎ TUS Consultation
These pilots are being run with the agreement of the unions at national level. As part of this management have committed to full consultation with local trade unions reps who will have a key role in ensuring the key criteria of the pilots are followed.

▪︎ Sites in the pilot
The sites in the pilot are:
Hyde JSA
CMG Falkirk
Canterbury UC
Walsall MA
Walsall UC
Blackpool JC
CMG Tyne View Park
Stratford DMA
Wrexham UC
Makerfield UC
Pudsey JC
Morley JC
Leeds Park Place JC
Wrexham JC
Purley JC
Bromley JC
Glasgow Dundas UC
Oxford JC
Wester Hailes JC
Ayr JC
One pension centre
A number of HRT and DMA locations

PCS are aware that working from home comes with its own challenges, which is why the voluntary nature of these pilots is so important. The union will keep members updated as to progress and any concerns should be flagged up with your branch rep to escalate to group if not resolved locally.

Charles Law - Industrial Officer / Martin Cavanagh - DWP Group President



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


30 Mar 2020 | Official Duty Agreed for Health and Safety reps dealing with Coronavirus – Extended for another two weeks to 13 April 2020 
The spread of the coronavirus is requiring a significant increase in the time that PCS health and safety reps are having to spend dealing with the impact of the virus in their workplaces.These include discussions with local management, ensuring workplaces are cleaned and have the required cleaning products, dealing with distressed members, ensuring dealings with the public are safe, advising members on DWP HR policies, etc.

This is clearly an unprecedented, very fast moving and extremely serious situation. PCS therefore requested today that time spent on dealing with the coronavirus for PCS health and safety reps should be treated as official duty.

PCS welcomes the quick response from DWP to agree to this request, initially for a two week period starting on Monday 16th March 2020. This means that, for the next two weeks at least, all health and safety reps’ time spent on dealing with the coronavirus will be treated as official duty.
DWP has asked that reps keep a record of the overall amount of time spent on official duty dealing with the coronavirus. Health and Safety reps are therefore asked to collate this over the two week period and send it to Charles Law via leeds@pcs.org.uk at the end of the period.


27 Mar 2020 |
Coronavirus: PCS agrees significant HR policy changes with Cabinet Office

Following our latest discussions with the Cabinet Office we have made significant changes to HR policy on sickness absence, staying at home and social distancing and self-certification.
The latest HR guidance, agreed yesterday (26) makes clear that sick absence due to coronavirus must be automatically disregarded for trigger points/consideration points. Managers must also accept extended self-certificates for the entire period of the absence when the employee is better and back at work.

We are also arguing that staff should stay at home and be able to observe social distance. They should only attend work if their work cannot be done from home, and that it is essential, for example it is for an emergency, or of a  “Vital to life” nature.
We will continue to call on the Cabinet Office to ensure the safety and security of all of our members.
Read the latest guidance in full.


26 March 2020 | DWP/MB/037/20 To: All Members and GEC
Members living with vulnerable people – Do I have to go to work?
PCS has received a large number of queries from members who are worried about having to go to work when they are living with a relative who is classed as vulnerable.
What do we mean by vulnerable?
Current NHS guidance defines vulnerable as follows:
● aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
● under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
● chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
● chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
● chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
● chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
● problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
● a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
● being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
● those who are pregnant

DWP has told all staff who fall into this category that they should not attend work at a DWP office, though they can, if possible, work from home. They should follow NHS guidance to be particularly stringent in following the NHS social distancing guidance.

Members have rightly voiced concerns that if they come to work they may contract the virus and then pass it on to their vulnerable relative when they return home after work. Members are therefore asking why they too cannot attend work to protect their vulnerable relative.

PCS has asked DWP to allow members living with a vulnerable relative to be allowed to also not attend work in order to protect their relative. DWP have replied as follows:

DWP will follow NHS advice. Currently this is that vulnerable people should be ‘shielded’ for 12 weeks by not leaving their home and minimizing personal contacts to an absolute minimum.

But the NHS is stating that people who live with ‘shielded’ people are not required to follow the same advice but instead should follow the personal hygiene and social distancing advice as they go about their business. Please see here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19

Please especially note this paragraph and the subsequent list of social distancing actions: Whilst the rest of your household are not required to adopt these protective shielding measures for themselves, we would expect them to do what they can to support you in shielding and to stringently follow guidance on social distancing.

We are allowing as many people as possible to work from home and are working to expand our capacity to do that but we also need people to deliver our services. Therefore, we won’t be going beyond extant NHS advice but will ensure we follow it to the letter.

PCS response
PCS is very disappointed at this response and we know that many members will be also. We will continue to press the department to adopt as flexible approach as possible to members who are living with a vulnerable person, to reflect both the extreme levels of anguish and distress that they are suffering from having to go to work in these circumstances and the danger posed to the vulnerable person.

PCS are clear that line managers should be as supportive of employees who care for vulnerable and disabled people as possible. Members in this situation should not be subjected to undue pressure to attend work and should report any examples of undue pressure being applied to their local union representative.

Cabinet Office guidance soon to be published, also highlights that "employees who are not themselves defined as vulnerable, but who live with and/or care for a vulnerable person are advised to stay at home as much as possible to limit the risk of infecting the vulnerable person they live with."

Any decisions taken within DWP regarding requests for staff to remain at home with a vulnerable person, should be taken within the spirit of the above advice, and CSHR Casework advice should be sought wherever necessary.
PCS will continue to maximise the pressure on DWP to ensure all workplaces are safe, properly cleaned, have the required sanitizing equipment and strictly follow NHS advice on social distancing.



DWP has said that it will follow NHS advice to the letter. We must ensure that they do.
Charles Law Industrial Officer | Martin Cavanagh DWP Group President


26 March 2020 | Coronavirus: Annual Leave
DWP/MB/035/20 | To: All Members and GEC 

PCS have been in regular dialogue with DWP over a series of measures which fall out from the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.
The employer has issued new HR advice for dealing with annual leave requests throughout this emergency. PCS urge all of our members, including those with line manager responsibility for staff to make themselves aware of this latest guidance.

Annual leave - important to have a break
The purpose of annual leave is to ensure you have sufficient rest, leisure and social activity, away from work and home. Members will be struggling with a whole variety of circumstances during this national emergency, and your wellbeing and safeguarding of your mental health has never been more important. Under any circumstance staff who do not take annual leave are at greater risk of burnout and mental health related sick absence, that is particularly the case now. It is clear the purpose of annual leave is not to self-isolate in order to comply with government advice to minimize the spread of coronavirus (covid-19) and staff should not be coerced in to taking annual leave to meet government guidelines.

Key Principles
The latest DWP guidance sets out the following key principles for members:
● Employees working in the office or from home should be encouraged to take leave, in line with normal policy guidelines, to switch away from work and enjoy time at home with family, on hobbies, etc.
● Annual Leave decisions will continue to be considered in line with existing policy
● Line Managers should plan for annual leave to be used in the normal way during the Coronavirus period.
● Annual Leave should not be used where employees are ill with coronavirus symptoms and self-isolating for 7 days.
● Annual leave should not be used where employees are housemates of someone ill with relevant symptoms and required to self-isolate for 14 days.
● Annual leave should not be used where employees have been granted paid special leave, e.g. due to a breakdown in caring arrangements.
● Special leave with pay differs from annual leave. Employees on Special Leave with Pay must ensure they are contactable during normal working hours and follow normal attendance management/sick procedures if unfit to work. They must seek line manager permission before taking annual leave. 

Relaxation of annual leave policy
Following discussion the DWP has agreed to a number of easements to the normal annual leave policy.

These include:
● Nobody will lose leave they cannot take. Annual leave will continue to accrue while employees are unable to take.

● The carry over limit of 10 days will not apply to the employee’s current leave year, where leave cannot be used due to coronavirus sickness absence or special leave, or because the business requires the employee to work. 

● Members will be expected to reduce the excess carry over to within the normal 10 days limit by the end of their next leave year in 12 months time.

● Members must be given the opportunity to use by the end of their next leave year, the annual leave they were prevented from taking during this epidemic. This is a legal requirement in respect of the minimum statutory leave.

● If you clearly state that you do not want to take the opportunity to carry over the excess and use it over an extended period, you can request payment instead. Payment can only be requested at the end of the leave year. 

● Easter holidays – if you are working in the office or at home you should speak to your manager about continuing to take any leave you have booked over Easter. If you are either needed to work by DWP or you wish to cancel the leave due to travel and social contact restrictions, your leave shall be credited back to your leave chart. 

Employees prevented from taking leave due to sickness absence or paid special leave will in any case continue to accrue the leave.

● Public & privilege leave – if you are working in the office or homeworking you will still take time off for bank holidays and (at an appropriate time) the Queen’s birthday.
If you are absent on paid special leave, including those in vulnerable groups who are self-isolating, you will not be entitled to these days and, therefore, will not be compensated either by carrying the days forward or receiving cash.

As ever PCS will continue to keep members informed as quickly as possible in this ever changing environment in which we are operating. If your experience differs from the position outlined in this briefing please raise your specific concerns or issues with your local PCS rep. If you have any queries or concerns regarding the advice in this briefing please contact group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk.
Martin Cavanagh, Group President | Angela Grant, Group Assistant Secretary

24 March 2020 | DWP suspend all Jobcentre Plus mandatory face-to-face signing

DEPARTMENT FOR WORK & PENSIONS GROUP
 To: All Members and GEC | DWP/MB/034/20
Coronavirus (COVID-19): Update for Jobcentre Members
DWP suspend all Jobcentre Plus mandatory face-to-face signing
The outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has left our Front of House members rightly concerned as an increase in footfall in Jobcentres has occurred. PCS have been pressing DWP for some weeks to close Jobcentres and a relaxation of the usual benefit process. In fact, PCS wrote to DWP on 3 March 2020 requesting that the conditionality and sanctions process be suspended, with priority given to getting benefits paid. PCS welcome the decision by DWP to suspend all Jobcentre Plus mandatory face-to-face signing from 19 March 2020. The department state that this measure will reassure claimants that they will continue to be paid as normal, while they deal with the current Coronavirus outbreak.

This decision means that:
• All new claim interventions will be done by telephone (Initial Evidence Interview, Claimant Commitment, verifying evidence, Habitual Residence Test).
• All face-to-face conditionality meetings for UC customers will be replaced with telephone interviews. This will maintain the regular contact between claimants and their Work Coach so that momentum is not lost for those needing support. Changes to claimant commitments can be agreed over the phone and accepted by the claimant on their on-line account.
• If Work Coaches need to contact claimants, they should do so via the online journal or by phone.
• If claimants need to contact DWP, they should do so by telephone or online, but the Jobcentre network will remain open for claimants who are not ill or self-isolating.
• This is in addition to the suspension of JSA and New Style JSA signings that was announced previously.

Further measures to minimise footfall in Jobcentres

In addition to the above, DWP announced on 24 March 2020 further measures to minimise footfall in Jobcentres.
This means that from 24 March 2020:
· Jobcentres will be closed to all but the vulnerable cases and other related transactions, which cannot be completed through any other channel in order to receive timely payment.
· Inside Jobcentres, strict social distancing measures will be in place.
· Signs will be placed in windows asking everyone to claim online and / or over the phone.
· A number will be provided for those who want to speak to a colleague in the Jobcentre.
· Local leaders will also signpost customers to local support services, such as the local authority.
DWP state that how this is implemented locally will be dependent on individual office circumstances and local managers are encouraged to begin preparation now.

Jobcentres remain open
Jobcentre members are rightly concerned about the current situation as they are at the front line. PCS made clear those concerns at recent meetings with the employer and we welcome the measures brought in by DWP to minimise footfall in Jobcentres. DWP state that they have to keep Jobcentres open in order that vulnerable claimants can access the benefits system at this time. There are many claimants that have no access to a telephone or computer and we recognise this. Suspending all Jobcentre Plus mandatory interviews has resulted in an increase in footfall in some Jobcentres as claimants of all benefits are seeking assistance as they feel that they have nowhere else to go. PCS welcome moves to prioritise payments of benefits to vulnerable claimants, but in doing so recognise that this has left staff confused and concerned. The Group Executive Committee (GEC) have been contacted by a number of members raising those concerns.

These concerns include:
. No posters regarding social distancing in Jobcentres.
. Claimants using computers and they are not being cleaned or wiped.
. No wipes or hand sanitisers available to staff and claimants.
. Air conditioning still on despite requests for it to be switched off.
. Staffing levels low as a result of staff being sent home or have not come in to work.
PCS are having regular meetings with senior DWP management and those issues listed will be raised. Any PCS member working in a Jobcentre and who has further concerns then please email group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk

Workers with an Underlying Health Condition
A number of Jobcentre members have also contacted the GEC stating that despite having an underlying health condition which requires an annual flu injection from their GP, they are being asked to come into the office. DWP/MB/032/20 covered this subject in great detail. However, as a reminder the DWP and government advice states:
We are advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.
This group includes those who are:
● aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
● under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
● chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
● chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
● chronic kidney disease
● chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
● chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS),
● a learning disability or cerebral palsy
● diabetes
● problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
● a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
● being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
● those who are pregnant

PCS advice and support
If any member has any concerns or is felt pressured into ignoring the latest position you should contact your local PCS representative for support in the first instance or alternatively raise the matter with group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk
PCS will continue to update our Jobcentre members when we can as we fully appreciate that many are worried and concerned at this time.
Ian Pope, Martin Cavanagh, Annette Rochester


23 March 2020 | Coronavirus: Vulnerable Workers
DWP/MB/032/20. To: All Members and GEC
On Sunday 22nd March the government issued further advice to workers and other members of society who were classed as vulnerable to Coronavirus due to their age (over 70), pregnancy or having serious underlying health conditions. 

This advice confirmed that those who were classed as vulnerable will be contacted directly by the NHS in the near future advising them of specific measures to take.
Since this announcement PCS have received a number of enquiries as to whether this guidance replaces that issued earlier last week. 

PCS have confirmed that this new advice DOES NOT REPLACE the previous guidance for vulnerable workers. The new guidance supports and enhances the previous advice, and the previous list of conditions outlined in DWP/MB/025/20 is still relevant.
As a reminder the DWP and government advice states:
We are advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.
This group includes those who are:
  1. aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  2. under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
  3. chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
  4. chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
  5. chronic kidney disease
  6. chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
  7. chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS),
  8. a learning disability or cerebral palsy
  9. diabetes
  10. problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
  11. a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
  12. being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
  13. those who are pregnant.
Vulnerable colleagues
PCS has already raised a number of examples were managers had sought to reinterpret the list or "diagnose" the conditions of individual members of their staff, as well as highlighting reports of individuals refusing to follow the advice given and demanding to stay in work.
DWP have taken these examples seriously and have now issued much firmer HR advice to ALL staff.
PCS advise our members that DWP policy for the handling of Coronavirus now makes clear that staff who fall within the above NHS definition of vulnerable, e.g. due to their age, pregnancy or certain underlying health conditions, MUST (a) inform their manager and (b) not attend the office.

The policy further advises these staff "do not have to disclose the nature of their illness to their manager, if they do not wish to, but they are expected to reveal the fact they are in the vulnerable category." 

With immediate effect any DWP member of staff who fits in to the above category of workers are not allowed to attend their office under any circumstances and managers do not have discretion to grant exceptions.
 
If vulnerable colleagues were previously granted exceptional permission to attend the office, or they were requested to attend by their manager, they must go home immediately and not return until further notice

Guidance for working from home should still be followed, if you are able to, but you should be granted paid special leave until further notice if homeworking is not possible.
Line managers are expected to advise vulnerable colleagues to follow the NHS guidance on Staying at Home (vulnerable person section) and on Social Distancing.

PCS advice and support
PCS welcomes the clarity offered in this latest advice and guidance, and will continue to raise examples that undermine this revised policy.

If any member has any concerns or is felt pressured in to ignoring this latest position you should contact your local PCS representative for support in the first instance or alternatively raise the matter with group office via leeds@pcs.org.uk

PCS will continue to update our advice and guidance to members as quickly as possible in light of developments.

Martin Cavanagh, PCS DWP Group President | Carol Revell, Group Health & Safety officer | Angela Grant, Group Assistant Secretary



21st March 2020 | Coronavirus: Special Leave for Dependant Care
DWP briefing, Department for Work & Pensions Group. To: All Members and GEC. DWP/MB/031/20 

Key worker status
DWP Coronavirus HR Policy guidance was updated on 20/03/20 following the government's decision to give DWP employees Key worker status. This means based on government guidelines, that schools should still be open to the children of DWP’s employees, although it will be for individual local authorities and/or schools to decide whether they provide this service and the extent to which they might provide it, based on staffing levels, etc. PCS understands there is great uncertainty as to what educational services will be available and that members are experiencing difficulties with the application of ‘Key Worker’ status, as well as having serious concerns as to what this means for them in practice and for the safety and wellbeing of their children.
This Briefing confirms that DWP Coronavirus HR Policy guidance includes advice for Dependent Care to address the above concerns. This guidance confirms that: Paid special leave is available where no other options are available or immediately available - this should be awarded for as long as staff need the provision.

Dependent care – DWP Guidance
Employees and managers should work together in these difficult circumstances to enable the employee to meet their caring responsibilities for their dependants while DWP delivers vital services to some of the most vulnerable in society. The employee can help by sharing their caring with family or trusted friends who can help, but only if it is safe to do so for the child and others, and is within the government's social distancing guidelines. While it is expected employees will make every effort to make alternative arrangements when normal care breaks down, many members have reported that their traditional fallback for additional childcare is the maternal and/or paternal grandparents.
Members are reminded that any family member who is over 70 or has an underlying health condition that makes them vulnerable, should be in isolation and should not be placed at risk by taking on extra childcare responsibility. The same consideration should be given to family members that are pregnant, who are also considered at risk during this period.
PCS have also received many enquiries from members who have children with specific needs who are potentially vulnerable due to the closure of educational and other care facilities. Government guidelines placed on the gov.uk website in relation to dependants of critical/key workers, states "every child who can be safely cared for at home should be". PCS expect managers to take the welfare of the member of staff and their dependant into account in line with this guidance.
DWP should explore the practicability of workplace flexibilities, including flexible working if employees need to start work later or leave at lunchtime to fulfil a caring need, or homeworking wherever that is possible.

Paid special leave is available where no other options are available or immediately available to staff and should be awarded. 

In certain circumstances, DWP can reimburse the necessary cost of additional care for children or dependent adults when coronavirus causes normal arrangements to break down. 

Full details are provided in Coronavirus HR Policy guidance on the DWP Intranet:
https://intranet.dwp.gov.uk/…/news-and…/dwp-news/coronavirus
 
PCS advice for members
PCS fully understands the concerns this crisis is causing our members and will continue to support and represent you through these difficult times. If you have no alternative but to take time off due to the school closures, or if your dependants would be vulnerable or at risk by you remaining at work, you should speak with your line manager who will be expected to make decisions in a flexible and compassionate manner.
The priority for all of society is to limit the spread of this virus as much as possible, and managers should not be trying to enforce decisions or mandate staff to do anything that undermines this strict government guideline. While we also still need to provide vital services to those in society who need our support, by working with each other we will stand a better chance of achieving the department's requirements while safeguarding our members and their families.
You should contact your local PCS representative for advice, support and representation should you have a problem resolving a work related issue in your personal case. PCS may be contacted by email when there is an urgent need to do so via: leeds@pcs.org.uk


20 Mar 2020 | DWP staff are ALL Key Workers
As part of the on-going reaction to the coronavirus, we now have confirmation that all DWP colleagues are classed as critical workers. This is further recognition of the vital job that all of us do every day, alongside nurses, doctors, firefighters and the police, to provide society’s safety net.
We will continue to discuss the implications of this with both DWP and the Cabinet Office, and we will be meeting with the employer today, and on an on-going basis during this crisis. We will keep members updated as regularly as possible and hope to issue detailed guidance later today.PCS will be using this confirmation, that our members are so key to delivering the everyday support that is needed by the most vulnerable in society, in our continuing campaign for better pay, pensions and staffing.The Government has formally recognised how important DWP workers are by declaring them as "critical workers". They now need to show that recognition in the pay packets of our members, by not attacking the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, by reducing pension contributions to what they should be and by providing us with the staff we need to carry out the vital role we play. 


20 Mar 2020 | Flexibility for formal meetings and trade union representation
Common line manager scenarios updated.

DWP has updated Coronavirus HR policy guidance, following consultation with PCS, for Common line manager scenarios to confirm that managers:
  • Should be flexible and practicable in applying deadlines in any procedures, not just Grievance
  • Discretion should be applied, based on the circumstances, to allow reasonable additional time for things to get done in the current situation
Appropriate formal action will continue under Attendance Management, Discipline, Poor Performance, Grievance and Appeal Procedures but this may require the application of flexibility in the current situation.
A Q&A under Coronavirus HR policy guidance for Common line manager scenarios now states:“My employee cannot arrange a TU rep to attend a grievance meeting on the appointed day or within 5 days of the appointed day. What should I do?  
You should be flexible and practicable in applying deadlines in any procedures, not just Grievance. Your discretion should be applied, based on the circumstances, to allow reasonable additional time for things to get done in the current situation. This might apply to deadlines for submitting grievances, notice of meetings and time allowed for trade union reps. or note-takers to be obtained. To the greatest extend possible, travel between sites for meetings should be avoided, with participants expected to agree telephone, VC or Skype meetings.”
PCS advice for members
Contact your line manager, or appropriate decision maker, when you are unable to arrange a PCS Rep to accompany you at a formal meeting. Try to contact an alternative local PCS Rep. Local managers should apply flexibility. You have the right to re-arrange a meeting up to 5 working days after the date of a notified formal meeting. But in the current situation managers can apply flexibility to agree an alternative later date for the meeting. Refusal to adopt the flexibilities expected in the current situation should be reported to PCS at: leeds@pcs.org.uk


19 Mar 2020 | Coronavirus: Flexi Credit and Special Leave
HR Coronavirus Policy Guidance updated
DWP Coronavirus HR Policy guidance was updated at 09:27 on 19 March 2020 for flexi credit and special leave, providing improved guidance following consultation with PCS.
Flexi credit and special leave – DWP guidance
Where the employee is not sick but is unable to attend work due to coronavirus, managers should try to be flexible and allow home working. Otherwise they should consider the use of either flexi credits under the Flexi Policy (for hours or odd days) or paid special leave (for weeks and multiple days). Each case should be treated sensitively and on its merits. The rationale for using flexi credits for shorter absences is it is impracticable to record hours and odd days as special leave on SOP.
Flexi credit (for hours or odd days) or paid special leave (for weeks or multiple days) might be needed for
  • Self-isolation – this is most likely to be because the employee lives in a household where someone else has the symptoms and everyone in that household must self-isolate for 14 days from when the symptoms emerged. There is guidance available where everyone in the household should self-isolate (link is external). Some other employees might individually be asked to self-isolate by NHS111 or their GP, for example because they have serious health conditions. Employees should discuss any such advice with the employee and act appropriately.
Point to note: employees aged over 70 years, pregnant mothers and some colleagues who are potentially vulnerable because they have certain health conditions should not attend work. If they can work from home, that should be prioritised and arranged, otherwise paid special leave must be considered under the ‘isolation’ category.
  • Caring responsibilities – following the government’s announcement on 18 March, schools are closed until further notice except for the children of workers who are essential to combatting the spread of coronavirus and children with certain vulnerable children. Other caring responsibilities for children under school years or adult dependents might also break down. In any of the above scenarios the employee must (a) where possible share caring responsibilities with their partner, if that is possible and (b) make strenuous efforts to establish alternative caring arrangements, where they can, as soon as possible. They should discuss this with their line manager. Home working should be considered. Where an employee has tried but not been able to make alternative arrangements, or those arrangements cannot commence for a few days, and home working is not possible, paid special leave may be awarded for the employee’s share of the caring.
  • Other reasons – such as an office temporarily closing or a breakdown in public travel
    In all cases managers should keep in touch with their employees and employees should take all practicable steps to resume duty as soon as possible – taking account of advice and guidance from CSHR Casework (via Employee Services)
PCS advice for members
PCS is engaged in daily contact with DWP to improve current guidance for members.
DWP Coronavirus HR policy guidance will be updated as soon as possible following the latest government decisions and NHS advice for coronavirus. DWP guidance is published on the DWP Intranet. p to date NHS advice is available from NHS111 on line.
Contact your local PCS representative for advice, support and representation should you have a problem resolving a work related issue in your personal case.
PCS may be contacted by email when there is an urgent need to do so via: leeds@pcs.org.uk




17 Mar 2020 | Coronavirus – Statement From Group President Many of you have understandably become increasingly concerned with the effects of Coronavirus and the impact it is having on your lives both inside and outside of work.
I wanted to write to you outlining the steps we are taking within PCS DWP group to manage and protect the safety and welfare of you, our members, and those members of the public we provide vital services to.
This national emergency is unprecedented, and has resulted in a societal anxiety rarely seen before.
PCS have been pursuing the robust, detailed guidance you require in these difficult times both nationally and within our department in DWP; at the same time Group officers and our office in Leeds have been fielding a number of questions from both members and PCS representatives, as well as listening to your concerns.
I want to reassure you that your union will continue to do everything we can to ensure you and your loved ones remain safe, while also seeking guarantees that help protect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Advice for members
PCS will continue to press the employer to prioritise the health and wellbeing of staff, their families and the public during the Covid19 pandemic.
PCS has already issued guidance to members in a number of circulars in recent weeks and further briefings will be issued as the situation progresses.
With this in mind PCS have proposed the following measures in consultation with the employer:
  • staff displaying symptoms of the virus should be sent home, with no impact on either their sick pay or the risk of attendance management action
  • staff in contact with others either exposed to the virus or showing symptoms, should be allowed special leave with pay (SPLWP) until the appropriate isolation period has been served
  • staff with underlying health conditions and/or disabilities be allowed to work from home, where possible, or be given SPLWP until the advice allows for a safe return
  • this provision be extended to staff and customers who are pregnant or over 70
  • all non-urgent face to face appointments with the public be cancelled until further notice
  • all customers be excused attendance at DWP sites and the normal benefit and NINO allocation processes be suspended until it is safe to resume appointments
  • all benefit payments be processed without signing or the need for face to face contact
  • the claimant commitment be suspended during this emergency
  • no sanctions to be issued as a result of claimants being impacted by this emergency
  • offices be closed and staff sent home to self-isolate for the recommended period in all instances where exposure, or potential exposure, to the virus can be identified
  • all necessary measures be put in place, to protect staff and customers, including the deep cleaning of offices and the provision of cleaning and sanitation materials in the workplace.
Union action
PCS is also very conscious of our own responsibility to both our representatives and members. It is for this reason that the union nationally has issued a temporary suspension of face to face meetings of reps and members, as well as unnecessary travel.
This decision will be reviewed later this week at a specially convened NEC dial-in and we will issue further advice as and when available regarding our internal activities.

Emergency measures
I am sure members will appreciate that these are extraordinary times and the absolute priority for our union has to be your safety and wellbeing, alongside that of your family and service users.
We will continue to challenge DWP when necessary to ensure we achieve this overarching priority, while still maintaining the service to our members.

We ask that members do all they can to aid us in ensuring we all remain as safe as possible during this period, and continue to feed your issues to your local reps or group office in Leeds, so we can progress them on your behalf.

Thank you for the co-operation you have displayed so far. I am committed to providing the leadership our group needs through these difficult times and will continue to press our demands on the employer to protect the health, safety and well-being of all of our members.
In solidarity.



12th March 2020 | Going abroad? Been abroad? CoronaVirus advice here.