Welsh and UK Government set to clash over ‘get back to workplace’ message

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) in yesterday’s speech broadcast on BBC One. Mark Drakeford (right), picture by the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government has said that it will continue to advise that people work remotely where possible to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The move comes as the UK Government is set to launch new adverts next week emphasising the benefits of employees returning to workplaces, as well as encouraging businesses to make their offices COVID-secure.

The new adverts will be in a similar format to previous government information campaigns such as the “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” media push.

The move represents a bolstering of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “back to work” message but puts Downing Street at odds with national governments around the UK.

A Welsh Government spokesman told LeaderLive that they would not be encouraging people to return when they could work from home.

“The most effective way of minimising the risk of exposure to coronavirus in workplaces is to enable some or all staff to work from home, as often as possible,” they said.

“As ‘reasonable measures’ there is an expectation that employers should be flexible and make adjustments wherever that is possible to enable that to happen. This may include issuing staff with laptops and mobile phones and facilitating communication from wherever members of staff may be.

The spokesman stated that employees should not be placed under pressure to return to a workplace setting if there is not a clearly demonstrated business need for them to do so.

“Employers who are considering requiring their staff to return to workplace settings should first assess whether alternative arrangements could meet the majority of the employer’s needs. This should be discussed with staff or representatives of staff,” the spokesperson said.

“In determining whether to ask staff to return to workplace settings, employers should consider whether any individual’s wellbeing would be particularly adversely affected by their returning to work (for example because they are at increased risk or have been shielding, or because returning to the workplace would cause them severe anxiety).”

 

‘Vulnerable’

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also contradicted the UK Government on the issue.

Ms Sturgeon warned that getting people back to workplaces “has to be done in the context of suppressing the virus”.

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, the first minister also said she would “not countenance in Scotland any kind of narrative around this that is seeking to almost intimidate people back to work before, as a country, we have taken a decision that that is safe”.

Ms Sturgeon spoke after Downing Street distanced itself from reports that those who continue to work from home could be more vulnerable to being sacked.

The Daily Telegraph quoted a government source as describing working from home as “not the benign option it seems”.

“Suddenly the word ‘restructure’ is bandied about and people who have been working from home find themselves in the most vulnerable position,” the source was quoted as adding.

Labour called on the government to condemn the reports.

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