Department denies chair shortage is hampering return-to-work drive

Report suggests Whitehall faces a “bum fight” for seats after chairs are sent to civil servants’ homes for lockdown
Shortage? What shortage? PA images

By Jim Dunton

15 Sep 2020

The Department for International Trade has rejected claims it is facing a shortage of chairs for staff returning to its offices after months of home working.

DIT – which swelled its ranks by one-quarter to 2,290 between 2019 and 2020, according to the latest civil service workforce statistics – was cited as the prime example of government departments facing a “bum fight” for seating in a report on Whitehall’s return-to-work drive.

Civil service unions have criticised the return-to-work drive, which aims to see 80% of civil servants return to their workplaces for at least two days a week by the end of this month, as unnecessary and potentially harmful to staff health as infection rates for Covid-19 rise.

But a report in The Sun suggested that Whitehall was also facing furniture shortages that were hampering the return-to-work drive. It said staff heading back to their offices for the first time in months were competing to secure seats after thousands of chairs had been sent to workers’ homes for use during lockdown. 

It quoted one DIT staffer saying: “Some of us returned to the office as we were told to – but there literally weren't enough chairs for us – because they sent us back home with them back in March!”

The paper said another staff member had joked that returning to the office had been like playing “musical chairs”.

A DIT spokesperson said it was “inaccurate” to suggest that a lack of chairs was preventing staff from returning to the office.

“We have more than enough chairs for all employees,” they said.

“DIT staff have already been returning to the office in line with the Covid-safe capacity of our building. All staff returning to the office have access to the services and facilities they need to work effectively.”

Last week it emerged that the Health and Safety Executive had issued the Department for Work and Pensions with a warning notice after an inspection found social-distancing measures were not being enforced at its Quarry House hub in Leeds.

Has your office faced return-to-work complications after months of home working? CSW wants to hear your experiences as you return to the office. Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or email.

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