Saturday, 26 Sep 2020

Coronavirus warning: UK workers unable to work from home overlooked as crisis deepens

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The Welsh Government has said its ambition is to see about 30 percent of Wales’ workforce staying at or near home in the long term. It says that the pandemic has offered the chance to adopt a culture that “supports remote working”. The move could reduce congestion and pollution, and improve work-life balance, ministers argue.

Before the pandemic, just five percent of the UK’s workforce considered their home as their main place of work.

Data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in June shows that 49 percent of workers now reported working from home.

Many have noted that the changes in habits forced by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown could transform the face of work.

Yet, home working is only fit for those who have certain limited requirements: a wifi connection, a phone, and a laptop.

For an estimated 4.9 million Britons who work in the retail sector, and 4.5 million who work in health and social care, remote working is impossible.

Many have been forced to attend their places of work even during the pandemic’s peak.

Mark Littlewood, the director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), warned that vast swathes of the UK’s workforce threaten to be overlooked by the newfound benefits of home working and potential shifts from urban areas.

He said: “I struggle to think of very many manufacturing jobs that can be done from home.

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“A lot of service industry jobs require you to be in a particular place at a particular time.

“If you’re a bar maid or waitress you can’t work from home.

“There’s quite a chunk of creative work, or middle class professional work, that can be easily done remotely, we’ll probably see that becoming a more permanent feature of the landscape, but we shouldn’t overlook the vast swathes of the economy where the worker actually needs to be at the place of work that is absolutely fundamental for the job.

“How is a supermarket shelf stacker supposed to work from home? Or someone from a car production assembly line supposed to work from home? They can’t.”


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The Government has launched a campaign to encourage workers to return to the workplace.

The All In, All Together campaign will seek to reassure employees that their workplaces are Covid-secure.

It comes as economists and business leaders warned over the financial damage being done to city centres.

The devolved governments are still encouraging workers to work remotely if possible.

Speaking in Parliament earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country, and quite right too, and of course we know that there is still going to be more of this disease, this wretched Covid still to come and we know there will be more outbreaks and we are absolutely confident that we are going to be able to deal with those outbreaks.”

Many offices in and around Westminster have reopened, with other Government places of work around the country having reintroduced some of their staff.

Despite this, a Government office was fined last week for breaching coronavirus health and safety protocols.

An inspection found the management at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) site in Leeds had not done enough to ensure workers could socially distance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Photographs show staff congregating around desks and breaking the two-metre guidance.

This came after Leeds was added to the Government’s watchlist after COVID-19 cases there soared.

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