PCS have secured further safety measures as the Home Office reverse their position on not allowing officers to wear face masks in operational/public facing settings.
Since the start of the lock down PCS have been objecting to the Home Office stance of not providing front line Border Force officers with face masks and not installing screens at passport controls and at other public facing enquiry points. We repeatedly raised this with senior management within Border Force and the Home Office but they kept referring us back to government and PHE guidelines stating that they did not support the use of face masks in operational settings where social distancing was impossible and passengers/members of the public were asymptomatic. Their stated belief was that face-masks provide very little in the way of protection and they refused to consider the reassurance that masks might provide to our members working to keep the borders secure during the pandemic.
PCS have been clear all along that the government’s basic Covid19 guidance does not go far enough and that the employer must be an exemplar and go further. This has been borne out to devastating effect with the government strategy leaving the UK with the highest COVID-19 deaths in Europe and the second highest in the world. Clearly the government strategy has failed people, something the Home Office now need to recognise and to stop simply referring to government guidelines as a reason for not considering suitable control measures, as well as giving suitable consideration to individual measures that could be effective in operational scenarios.
PCS have kept up the pressure raising members concerns over a lack of face masks and screens with politicians and the national media have picked up on the issue.
PCS actions have eventually contributed to a change in the employers stance and Border Force officers and other public facing Home Office staff are now being provided with face masks to be worn when social distancing in a public setting becomes impossible. In addition the fitting of protective screens is now being rolled out across all operational ports, airports and public facing offices. PCS have also called on the Home Office to go further and to support the wearing of face masks/coverings for all staff where they are being brought back into workplaces or where they may come into contact with the public and colleagues.
While the Home Office have been slow to introduce a number of safety measures for staff they’ve not been so slow in looking to force staff back into offices. In particular HMPO have been eager to return more staff into work despite the stubbornly high infection rates across the country. PCS have strongly objected to this as we’ve maintained that the safest place for staff is to be at home. We believe it is incumbent on the employer to provide the technology to allow people to do their job from home and we’re pleased that in many areas of the Home Office this has happened. However, despite PCS slowing the numbers HMPO wanted to return, we are now seeing over 1,000 staff across HMPO being brought in to offices daily. Under pressure from PCS there are strict social distancing measures and heightened cleaning regimes in place. However with around 29% of the workforce in the office daily HMPO management seem to think this is all they need to do as they’ve achieved their objective. For PCS we are not just content to sit back and hope for the best so we have continued to push for further protections for staff.
PCS have called on the Home Office to introduce mandatory temperature screening with touch less temperature scanners to determine whether employees should be allowed to enter a workplace. An elevated body temperature of above 38°C is one of the primary symptoms of COVID-19. Accordingly, we feel that a decision to implement temperature screening would be a necessary step towards mitigating the risk of an outbreak in a workplace. Again it’s disappointing that the Home Office have been slow to respond on this important safety measure to protect staff and limit the spread of the virus. PCS will continue to call for this and other measures to protect members.
Shocking data from the ONS (Office for National Statistics) has shown that security guards are the most likely cohort of workers within the Civil Service to die as a result of COVID-19. We also know that cleaners are a high risk category. Again, the Home Office have been slow to look at what further measures they need to take to look out for the safety and wellbeing of these workers and whilst in many cases the Home Office do not directly employ cleaners and security guards PCS have been pushing the Home Office to ensure contractors are acting appropriately to protect these staff.
Members are reminded to use the online PCS H&S incident reporting log for any social distancing or PPE matters in workplaces, so the union can raise these with management. This is open to all members whether in the Home Office, one of its NDPB’s or private contractors.
While the threat of the coronavirus remains PCS will continue to stand up for members rights and safety. We will continue to lobby for further enhanced control measures to protect them and continue to hold the employer to account where safety measures are not being implemented in a timely, effective fashion.
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