Civil servants urged to voice anger over return-to-office drive

Union calls on branches to consider following ONS' strike-action lead

By Jim Dunton

10 Apr 2024

The civil service's biggest union is encouraging members to be vocal in their opposition to the government's latest back to the office drive – and potentially follow officials at the Office for National Statistics, who have voted to strike over the rollback of flexible working.

PCS said this week that its national executive committee has agreed an action plan that includes encouraging members to submit grievance letters to managers in response to the requirement to attend workplaces for a minimum of 60% their working time.

The union is also asking branches and groups at departments and agencies to canvas support for industrial action over the government's latest demands and to apply to the national disputes committee if sentiment is strong enough.

PCS pointed to the recent ballot at ONS, where 73% of members voted in favour of strike action, based on a turnout of 50%. The ONS dispute is over the handling of a requirement for full-time staff to spend the equivalent of two days a week in the office.

"In the members’ survey that we carried out late last year, 83% of members said they believed that hybrid working made them more productive and 100% of members said that they would lose valuable time with the extra commuting, as well as facing increased travel costs," the union said.

PCS has also produced a template grievance letter that members can download and use as the basis for setting out to managers the negative impact the 60:40 drive is having on their lives.

Members at the ONS have yet to announce strike dates in their dispute. The union is instead seeking urgent talks with management.

The ONS policy was announced in November last year, the same month that ministers ordered senior civil servants to increase in-office working across the wider civil service, with staff expected to spend at least 60% of their time in the office, depending on "estate capacity".

PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote said ONS bosses had "seriously undermined" the trust and goodwill of staff by seeking to drive the policy through despite previous regular assurances that flexible-working arrangements introduced during the pandemic would remain.

Thirteen thousand PCS members across government departments and agencies responded to the union's survey on the cross-government 60:40 drive last year.

Some 39% of officials said they were thinking about quitting their jobs as a result of the push.

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