Government consults on draft return-to-work guidelines

Staggered start times to ease pressure on transport routes are under consideration
Claire Doherty/SIPA USA/PA Images

Staggered start times, reduced hot-desking and additional hygiene procedures are measures under consideration to enable workplaces to reopen.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said at the weekend that businesses could be asked to stagger employees’ working hours to prevent crowded commutes and reduce the number of people in offices or other workplaces.

Speaking at yesterday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove added that the government was in consultation with employers and trade unions regarding the safest approaches to easing the lockdown so people could return to work.

Business groups and unions have received the draft guidelines and have until 9pm this evening to respond.

According to a leaked draft of the guidelines, the proposals include additional hygiene procedures, physical screens where possible and the use of protective equipment if social distancing of two metres between workers is impossible.

Protective screens like those used at some supermarket checkouts are under consideration, and testing could be another way to help employees feel safe in workplaces where they need to work closely with each other.

The current lockdown period is due to be reviewed on Thursday 7 May, and prime minister Boris Johnson has said he will reveal a “roadmap” for coming out of lockdown on Sunday 10 May.

“A phased approach is one which allows us to monitor the impact that those changes are having on public health,” said Gove at the briefing yesterday, hinting that certain restrictions could be re-introduced to deal with localised outbreaks.

The British Chambers of Commerce this weekend called for a “carefully phased” lifting of lockdown restrictions. Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, the body’s president, wrote to Johnson to urge the government to share “immediately” how it planned to emerge from lockdown, and “clear decisions and guidance” on protective kit to be worn in workplaces.

Rail union leaders have also written to the prime minister to air concerns over potential risks to railways staff if train services are increased to reduce overcrowding.

Mick Cash, Mick Whelan and Manuel Cortes of unions RMT, Aslef and the TSSA jointly wrote to the government over fears there is no plan to increase services while maintaining social distancing.

“We therefore call on the government and train operators to work with us in establishing where there is a real demand to increase services and, where that demand exists, how it can be delivered safely,” the letter said.

Chris Biggs, managing director of accountancy firm Theta Financial Reporting, said it would be important for employers to be clear how the guidelines might apply in their own workplace, for example if extended working from home would be encouraged.

“They should ask why not if it has worked well and productivity has been maintained,” he said. “At the end of all of this, there will need to be a wholesale review of companies’ disaster recovery plans to ensure they learn and put in place now actions that will help in future. However, businesses need to start this now and gather input from all areas of the business and all staff to see what needs to change and be put in place.”

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