Published On: Fri, Mar 15th, 2024

UK civil servants issue urgent warning as they threaten strike over major new rule | UK | News

British civil servants have issued the Government with a warning as ministers prepare to enforce a major new rule.

Staff working at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK’s national statistics body, have said they will go on strike if they are forced to work from their offices for two days a week.

The Government has started to order its workers to return to their places of work after having allowed them to conduct business from home during the pandemic.

Number 10 has ordered a crackdown citing the “significant benefits” of working in person, with some senior managers and early-career officials being asked to commute for up to 60 percent of the working week.

Civil service unions have objected to these demands and are balloting up to 1,000 ONS staff over a potential walkout.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has asked the office’s staff whether they would be happy to strike over the Government’s proposals.

The union said that many staff work in the office “several days a week” without being compelled and that many others joined “because they were promised the flexibility to work from home”.

PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote claimed managers appeared to have “changed their minds” after assuring civil servants that they could work under flexible arrangements.

She added that there is no “evidence-based basis” for making the “rushed decision” to force employees back to the office.

Ms Heathcote said: “It’s a mystery why managers have changed their minds, especially after having regularly reassured members they could remain working more flexibly.

“No evidence-based business case has been made for their rushed decision – a move that has caused anger among staff demoralised by the lack of trust and the need for rapid changes to their childcare and other arrangements.”

PCS has called for talks with ONS top brass before the strike ballot closes on April 2, with civil servants across multiple Government departments deciding whether to walk out.

Ministers have told civil servants they must return to the office after claiming flexible arrangements have affected Government work.

Nick Smallwood, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority chief, told MPs remote working had delayed work on major projects.

An ONS spokesperson told “The ONS has had a hybrid working model for some years now, in line with the wider Civil Service. Face-to-face interaction supports collaboration and fosters learning and innovation, while some tasks can be done as effectively or even more effectively at home.

“We are applying this flexibly to help balance business and personal needs, and have offered all colleagues extensive support.”

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