Workers at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) have been told their desks must be clutter-free to promote “efficient business processing”.
The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents staff, said the moves were “dehumanising” for staff and condemned the scheme as “hare-brained”.
Non-essential items targeted include money, memorabilia and packed lunches. Essential items that are allowed in workstations include calculators and pens.
The department’s efficiency programme has already resulted in a work-to-rule and overtime ban among 14,000 civil servants.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: “By reducing staff to nothing more than machines on the whim of consultants, the department is undermining the morale of staff who face imminent job cuts and office closures.
“It is ridiculous that, unlike their colleagues working for the same organisation in the same office, this group of workers are being banned from having things such as a photo of a loved one on their desk.”
A spokesman for HMRC said: “Staff are asked to organise their desks when shared with colleagues to avoid clutter and to make sure they have everything set up to do their job effectively.
“Any suggestion that staff are restricted to a pen and cup on their desk is simply not true.