- BT propose to reopen offices from 19 July
- Company to end social distancing in offices
- Prospect call for the retention of safeguards as Covid cases rise
Over the past 16 months the union has often commended BT for their cautious and safety-first approach to dealing with the pandemic. Prospect have worked closely with the business to ensure that government guidance has been followed and that our members have not been put at risk. Furthermore, both the company and union recognised the duty we all had to protect each other from the virus and that corporate social responsibility was vital in promoting the common good.
The company have now issued a communication to all staff outlining their approach to a return to office working once government restrictions have been lifted on 19 July. The union were briefed on the plan prior to the communication going out and had the opportunity to raise our concerns with what is being proposed.
Firstly, in the company’s defence, it is extremely difficult to discern what the government’s advice is at this time. For example, we are being told masks are no longer mandatory but we should wear them and that we should return to our offices but not to do so all at once. There is also the reality of a highly transmissible variant of Covid spreading exponentially at a time when the government is removing all restrictions.
Nevertheless, despite the worrying approach of the Government in managing this latest stage of the pandemic BT are still able to exercise their own caution in respect of a return to office working. Thus, the union has expressed its concern at the removal of some of the measures that have helped to limit the spread of the virus and helped to reassure staff.
Following our meeting with the company on Monday the union has had further discussions on how best to deal with the return to offices and mitigate the risk to members. Furthermore, the union is committed to working collaboratively with the company on these matters in order to make the workplace as safe as possible. That is why our union safety reps will be involved at a national and local level to ensure the appropriate risk assessments are in place and measures are being abided by.
BT have told us that they will manage attendance at offices during a transition period that will run until September. This will be done using a space booking tool that will limit office attendance to 40% of normal capacity. Indeed, this is the figure that we understand ensures social distancing can be fully observed. Therefore, it is baffling to understand why the company are abandoning this critical safeguard and by implication encouraging close contact within offices. We will continue to demand that a level of social distancing is observed.
The company had also initially indicated that all Covid signage would be removed. We believed this was a retrograde step but following Prospect’s strong representations to the business on this matter they have agreed that signage will remain in place although the messaging will change in time to reflect the change in Government guidelines. Once again the union will monitor the efficacy of this measure as our members return to their workplaces.
Finally, Prospect have many more questions to ask and will be raising these at forthcoming meetings, not least those attended by our union safety reps. We also welcome comments from members on the company’s proposals which we will of course keep anonymous. Indeed, your input will be vital in helping to inform our approach as the office estate opens up over the next few months.
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Prospect represents over 151,000 working people across the UK. We focus on professionals, managers, technical experts and craftspeople working in a huge range of industries. To change your details, please call 0300 600 1878. If you have colleagues who are non-members, please encourage them to join Prospect too. People can join online at www.prospect.org.uk/joinus