The PCS trade union is calling for the closure of all HM Revenue & Customs offices where there have been confirmed cases or suspected of Covid-19, following the death of two members of staff who reported symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
Representatives from the union met with the Cabinet Office yesterday with particular concerns about Trinity Bridge House in Salford after a civil servant from that office died last week.
PCS wants to see office closures allow deep cleaning and contact-tracing of people at risk of having contracted the virus. It would be “gross negligence” to continue to keep offices open where there have been outbreaks of Covid-19 among staff, PCS said yesterday.
PCS also confirmed that a second civil servant, who had worked at Peterlee HMRC in County Durham, died from a suspected case of Covid-19.
In a letter to HMRC sent last week, Lorna Merry and Martin Kelsey, president and secretary of PCS’s revenue and customs group, said a union member at the branch had died a week after being sent home “exhibiting the symptoms of Covid-19” and later confirming he had a high temperature.
“Throughout this crisis, PCS have pressed for guidance to be agreed when it comes to Covid-19 cases arising in the office. The death, earlier this week, of a PCS member in Trinity Bridge House has thrown that necessity into even sharper relief,” the letter said.
“We concluded that in cases such as this, given the infectiousness of the virus, the department should operate on the basis that it is a Covid-19 case.”
It added: “Waiting for a member of staff to be tested positive before taking meaningful action risks a spread of the virus amongst the other staff who are required to be in the office.”
The union held talks with the Cabinet Office yesterday, demanding action be taken to protect officials.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The government must act to protect key civil servants in a time of national crisis where they are risking serious ill health and death by continuing to go into work.
“It is incomprehensible that after several meetings with the Cabinet Office that civil service managers are refusing to close Trinity Bridge despite an outbreak of the virus and the sad death of a colleague.”
Ahead of yesterday’s talks, Serwortka said failing to act would amount to “gross negligence” and that the union would be pressing the point with the Cabinet Office.
“Our members want to work supporting businesses and the most vulnerable access the support they need. But they must be allowed to work in safe conditions,” he said.
Some front line HMRC staff are designated as key workers in the government’s guidance on tackling the coronavirus outbreak. Those who can do their jobs from home – including some who normally work in the Salford branch – are doing so, but some are required to go into an office.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “frontline civil service staff are doing a critical job supporting the UK during the coronavirus outbreak, and their health and safety is of utmost importance.
"The Cabinet Office is engaging with all civil service trade unions on the government’s response to coronavirus, including the PCS.”