Boris Johnson faces a fierce battle with union leaders after they frustrated his drive to get Britain back to work.
In a bid to return the country to ‘complete normality’, the Prime Minister this week scrapped official guidance instructing people to work from home.
He said he wanted civil servants to set an example by returning to the office – and yesterday ordered Cabinet ministers to ensure their Whitehall staff resumed ‘normal working patterns’ as soon as possible. But the unions resisted, branding Mr Johnson’s demands ‘insulting’ and saying the move to get workers back at their desks was ‘reckless’.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents civil servants and other public sector workers, warned against a ‘headlong rush’ back to the workplace.
Boris Johnson will have to fight union leaders for his rights after they thwarted him in his quest to put Britain back on its feet.
In a bid to return the country to ‘complete normality’, the Prime Minister this week scrapped official guidance instructing people to work from home
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents civil servants and other public sector workers, warned against a ‘headlong rush’ back to the workplace
The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, also reacted angrily, saying the world of work had ‘changed for good’ – despite the easing of the Covid threat.
The Cabinet Office has refused to put a target date on when ministers want to see a full return of Whitehall staff – leading to fears that many could stay working from home for weeks.
According to one source, workers will return in stages rather than in large numbers.
Tory MPs and business leaders demanded that Mr Johnson face down the unions – saying failure to act would be disastrous for the economy, and particularly city centres.
A string of events took place yesterday
- Businesses giants started calling employees back to their offices with banks, insurance firms, and advertising companies all announcing that they would be returning workers.
- Commuters poured back to public transportation, as figures show that London congestion levels rose by 72% during rush hour.
- Dozens of schools across the country angered parents by defying ministers’ calls to ditch masks in classrooms.
- London Mayor Sadiq Khan sparked a row by warning that face coverings will remain a ‘condition of carriage’ on all TfL services, including Tubes, buses, overground trains, trams and river boats.
- Sajid Javid Health Secretary said Britain should not close down its economy once more to combat Covid, even if the disease continues to kill thousands each year.
- Figures showed that almost two-thirds of London hospital patients with Covid – and 70 per cent in one part of the country – were actually admitted for another reason and the virus was ‘incidental’.
- Following a row over official modelling, the Government’s advisers Sage admitted the high levels of Omicron hospitalisations forecast last month had not occurred.
Mr Johnson continued to face claims over the ‘Partygate’ row, as a Tory MP made extraordinary allegations of ‘blackmail’ by Conservative whips.
Mr Johnson continued to face claims over the ‘Partygate’ row, as a Tory MP made extraordinary allegations of ‘blackmail’ by Conservative whips
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it was ‘selfish’ of the unions to back continued home working because town centre businesses such as sandwich shops and pubs would close if staff did not return to their desks.
‘When they eventually go back to their office there won’t be anywhere to get a sandwich from or sit down in a pub – they’ll all close,’ he said. ‘It’s selfish and self-centred just to stay with hybrid working. If unions had their way you’d get paid for doing no work, but the reality is that we should be back at our offices.’
Tory former minister David Jones said: ‘It’s time to return to a more normal way of living. It includes returning to work. This is far more beneficial than living in a home.
‘People benefit hugely from interaction with colleagues. It’s better for mental health and also helps professional development. We also need to restore vibrancy to our urban centres, thereby helping our economy to grow.’
Lord Rose, former chairman of Marks & Spencer, told LBC Radio he had been calling for a return to the office for months, adding: ‘I cannot believe that we’ve got a nation sitting at home now cowed by this Government, because they’re fearful of this virus – which has been unpleasant, it has killed a lot of people – but it is something we now have to live with.’
Last night, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said ministers had been told to get their offices ready for the full return of staff. When the Daily Mail contacted them, however, each department refused to reveal when they expected all their staff to return to work. The Daily Mail also asked them to not say how many officials are currently working at the office.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, said it was ‘insulting’ to ‘force’ officials back to the office. ‘The idea that forcing civil servants back into the office will somehow show a lead to the rest of the economy is frankly insulting to all those businesses who have made decisions that enhance their efficiency and profitability.’
The PCS union said: ‘There should not be a reckless, headlong rush to increase numbers at workplaces. Instead, there needs to be a properly planned approach, which allows the employer and the union to negotiate safe arrangements.’
An aide to one minister said: ‘There are still not as many officials in the office as there should be.’ Mr Javid admitted his department could not get all the staff in because there was not enough space.