COVID-19 – BF Issues

To:       All Members  

cc:       Group Executive Committee

Date:   1st May 2020

HO/MB/024/20

 

An update for members working in BF around COVID-19 arrangements in the workplace and H&S advice for members.

 

Background

PCS has been clear in previous Health & Safety briefings that there has been significant engagement with the employer on COVID-19 arrangements in the Home Office and in Border Force specifically. This latest Briefing should be read in conjunction with MB 23/20 which was issued on Monday 27 April 2020 and dealt in some detail with some of the legal aspects around addressing H&S concerns in the workplace as well as signposting members to a PCS H&S Log where members can report concerns and incidents.

PCS welcomes the engagement where it has taken place between the employer and us across the Home Office and in the specific Directorates including Border Force. As a union we are quite clear that we wish to maintain lines of constructive communication, as all parties should be working together, to keep members and their families/household members safe in these strangest of times. This is our overriding priority.

PCS has contributed significantly at a national level in discussions around shift allowances, the Border Force Safe System of Work and the Coronavirus Hub Frequently Asked Questions which can be found on Horizon and which cover amongst other issues, Special Leave, Sick Leave, Annual Leave, Officers with health conditions and those with caring responsibilities. We continue to have an input into the revisions of these documents and share members’ frustrations at some decisions and the lack of movement in some key areas.

PPE

As above, whilst we have had input into the Safe System of Work document, we have been unable to reach agreement on the thorny subject of when to apply facemasks.

This has been discussed at length and with some regularity, as we are aware that personal protection is one of the most significant concerns for our members. BF continues to base its stance on the current PHE advice (supported by the Government) that extra PPE (in this case facemasks) is not required when interacting with an asymptomatic passenger/member of the public. PHE advice does, however, support the undertaking of dynamic risk assessments to establish whether a passenger/member of the public is symptomatic and whether the environment in which they are encountered supports social distancing as an effective control measure for reducing the potential for virus transmission.

Following on from the PHE advice, the BF SSoW does not support the routine wearing of facemasks in face to face frontline activities. PCS has lobbied hard for a change in this stance and we had some success with the revision of the SSoW as applied to migrant beach landings/clandestine encounters where appropriate PPE should now be worn as a matter of course. PCS believes that this specific change should now be extended to all BF public facing work/duties.

Of course, we have to acknowledge that our position departs from the substance of the current PHE and Government advice. However, PCS believes that the reassurance and support to members’ mental health and wellbeing from such an alteration currently trumps this central advice and supports a change in policy. Members are rightly concerned about their own and their family’s health.

PCS believes that the public is much more comfortable with the concept of people generally wearing face masks than they were a month ago. Mask wearing is no longer unusual or an outlier in the ‘new normal’.

There is growing pressure from some senior politicians, including the Mayor of London and the Scottish First Minister, for PHE advice to be relaxed to reflect that already in place in Germany, France and South Korea (amongst others) where facemasks are recommended in certain public settings (such as in confined areas and on public transport).

The Government’s scientific advisory committee is currently looking again the effectiveness of facemasks in preventing the transmission of the virus. At the time of writing we await any further policy decisions.

Screens

Members concerns have also centred on the provision of Perspex screens (similar to those in common usage in supermarkets) for public facing areas, such as PCP desks, at airports/ports. PCS has again lobbied at some length for these screens to be installed across the BF estate.

Screens have now been installed across the Heathrow terminals and are being rolled out to other locations. There are further discussions underway to extend the provision of such screens to other areas such as interview rooms. PCS welcomes the installation of the screens and hope that all ports/airports will have them as soon as possible.

Feedback is that they have been well received by members and the travelling public alike and that they provide a welcome further protection for our members.

Advice to members in BF

If you think appropriate arrangements for working safely in line with social distancing requirements aren’t being observed in your work area please let us know so we can ensure your concerns are addressed effectively.

MB 23/20 refers to the process members can follow if they have concerns that their health and safety has been compromised and that as a result they are in serious or imminent danger.       

Kevin Mills
PCS Home Office Group Assistant Secretary
BF Lead
Martin Andrews
PCS Home Office Group Assistant Secretary
H&S Lead   

 

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