Cabinet Office plans for civil service Covid tests spark ‘serious concerns’

Union seeks assurances departmental officials will not be compelled to test each other
Sgconlaw/CC BY-SA 3.0

By Jim Dunton

23 Nov 2020

The civil service’s biggest union has raised “serious concerns” about proposals for the introduction of coronavirus testing in some government ministries.

The PCS union said it recognised the country needed a properly-functioning test, track and trace system but feared the rushed introduction of a scheme in departments could see officials testing each other and plunge contract workers with no sick-pay entitlements into hardship.

Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said the testing plans had been broached at a meeting with Cabinet Office officials on Thursday last week and assurances were needed that any new testing model would be brought in only after proper consideration.

In a letter to Cabinet Office executive director for employee and trade-union relations Mervyn Thomas, Serwotka said the rollout of testing had to be supported by a “sufficient number of properly trained medical personnel”.

He said the union’s understanding was that there was a “direct relationship” between the level of training testers had undertaken and the accuracy of test results. 

“We are also clear that workers in the departments earmarked for the testing regime should not be responsible for carrying out testing,” he said.

“At the meeting we also raised the nature of the test itself and questioned its use.”

Serwotka added that the introduction of coronavirus testing on the government estate would have implications for contractors and facilities management staff.

“Our position is that any proper testing regime should include them,” he said. “But we raised concerns that without full sick pay/full isolation pay then these workers will be condemned to poverty if they are sent home after testing positive. 

“Therefore we want pay protections to be put in place for these workers.”

Civil Service World asked the Cabinet Office for its response to PCS’s concerns and for more details on which departments may be prioritised for coronavirus tests.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We are looking into options to offer tests to civil servants who are not able to work from home.

“This is part of our work to make sure it is as safe as possible for all civil servants to do their jobs and continue delivering vital public services.”

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