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Get back to work

Published: Tuesday 1st September 2020

The UK government this week is stepping up efforts to get people back to work. Newspaper and television adverts will appear this week aiming to encourage UK workers get back to work. The campaign focuses on the mental and emotional benefits of working with colleagues. However, a darker message will be that employees who do not get back to work are more vulnerable to losing their job.

Businessman stands at fork in the road to highlight the decision to get back to work or not.

Is more planning needed?

The government plans have been condemned by various groups, including the Labour party, worker unions and even some businesses. Labour’s shadow business minister, Lucy Powell, condemned the campaign. She said, “It beggars belief that the government are threatening people like this during a pandemic. Forcing people to choose between their health and their job is unconscionable.” Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) called for a hybrid approach. She said, “This is about creating the opportunity and the confidence to get a hybrid that gets the best of both worlds. We’re certainly not there yet.”

The government says it continues to work closely with employers. A government spokesperson said, “We’ll also provide practical steps businesses are taking to ensure offices are Covid-secure, as well as alternative ways of travelling to work.” The drive to get people back to work comes after dire warnings of the potential cost if they do not. One prediction warns it may take years for the UK economy to recover if people remain at home. The economic cost is estimated at around half a trillion pounds.

Businesswomen working in an office wearing masks to highlight the governments message for workers to get back to work.

What do businesses say?

Many companies are not returning to their offices despite government pressure. Capita has announced it intends to close over 80 offices across the country. Meanwhile, Pret a Manger has cut nearly 3,000 jobs following the drop in high-street footfall. Many companies are allowed staff to continue working at home. These include PricewaterhouseCoopers and Schroders, whilst NatWest Group intends to allow employers to work remotely until 2021.

Despite the government insisting it is safe to return to work, some sectors appear less convinced. The civil service being one of the most visible. Downing Street continues to insist that civil servants set an example by returning to work. However, The Financial Times reports that those in the civil service are reluctant. The PCS union, which represents civil service employees, claims the government is making a mistake because of local outbreaks. The union cited the government’s own chief scientific adviser who stated that homeworking was “not detrimental to productivity”. The union has urged members to ignore instructions to return to work.

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