ONS staff 'to defy back-to-office drive' with industrial action

Members of the PCS union encouraged to revert to their previous hybrid working schedule from 8 May
Office for National Statistics headquarters Photo: ONS

By Jim Dunton

26 Apr 2024

Civil servants who are members of the PCS union at the Office for National Statistics are set to defy the organisation's newly-introduced "40% of the week in the office" rule with a wave of industrial action.

The action short of strike will see PCS members encouraged to ignore the controversial requirement from 8 May, with union leaders urging a return to the previous arrangements of attending offices when it suits staff and fits in with team needs.

The ONS' 40% office-attendance rule, which went live from the beginning of this month, is less demanding than Cabinet Office minister John Glen's diktat for 60% office attendance from other departmental staff. But it has still proved unpopular with officials at the organisation, which has its heaquarters in Newport.

A ballot of PCS members at the ONS found 73% in favour of strike action in protest at the new rules and 84% in favour of action short of strike.

The initial wave of industrial action is being described as "non-compliance", with PCS asking members to manage their working arrangements according to the previous policy of maximum flexibility.

PCS said that if the action did not have the desired effect, it had the option of escalating the dispute and initiating strike action.

ONS group president Grant Williams said the new requirements threatened serious disruption for staff with childcare and other caring responsibilities, and those who live a considerable distance from their designated office.

"We are a highly skilled and capable workforce, and we deserve to be treated as such," he said. "We have shown for several years that we can successfully manage hybrid working in a sensible, considered, and personalised way to achieve our aims."

PCS said it had written to national statistician Prof Sir Ian Diamond to seek urgent talks following the strike ballot, but management had refused to discuss the issue further.

It added that on 16 April, the ONS had threatened to remove further flexibilities for staff by also dictating which days employees must spend in the office.

An ONS spokesperson said the organisation was "disappointed" that PCS had chosen to take industrial action despite a range of flexibilities built into the new hybrid working arrangments.

"We continue to engage with our departmental trade unions," they said. "While we do not expect this action to have any significant impact on the production of key ONS statistics, we believe firmly that a reasonable level of office attendance – in line with the wider civil service – is in the best interests of the ONS and all our colleagues.  Face-to-face interaction supports personal collaboration, learning and innovation."


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