It was interesting to note that Britain’s second best selling ‘newspaper’, the Sun, reports that Boris Johnson is begging ‘Brits to get back to the office or jobs will be lost’. ‘Far more workers have returned on the Continent,’ adds Rupert Murdoch’s drooping organ, adding’ Whitehall civil servants are among those defying edicts, only one in 20 going back in some departments.’ I can only imagine your average Sun reader seething in anger as they learn that those pesky civil servants are literally refusing to go back to work, despite being instructed to do so. To which I can only add, bollocks. This is the government, using its voice in Fleet Street, to lie to the public and they’ve obviously picked the right scandal sheet to lie through.
The simple fact is this: no one is refusing a reasonable instruction to return to work, least of all ‘Whitehall civil servants’, the vast majority of whom do not work in Whitehall and, I’ll wager, not one of whom has defied any edict to return to work. There is a good reason for this: workers, whether civil servants or not, have very little by way of rights and they certainly do not have the right to refuse to go to the office. If an employer instructs someone to return to the office, then return to the office they must.
The Sun’s wildly inaccurate ‘story’ can only have come about for one simple reason: desperation. The government knows that the hospitality sector is on its knees. The economy is based largely on people buying things which provides money for other people to buy things. With our cities almost deserted, the hospitality sector has little business, hence the government spending half a billion quid in August in order to subsidise people going out for something to eat. Britain’s worst newspaper has adopted its usual policy of divide and rule, blaming the workers for the decisions of employers and managers. It won’t wash.
Employees have been told to work from home. Indeed, in some government departments, staff have been provided with laptops in order to continue to work from home. Far from issuing edicts for people to return to their offices, government departments are carrying out extensive reviews to examine if home-working is the future. And, spoiler alert, it is. With the government having spent enormous sums during the pandemic, there could be substantial savings, by way of reducing the size of estates, the cost of meetings and travel costs and so on.
Many feel it is time for the government to get real, to accept the new normal of home-working and to encourage and incentivise the inner city hospitality industry to change and diversify. If working from home proves to be as productive for employers, if it means workers spend less time pumping out carbon going to work in town and if it means the coronavirus is less able to spread because less people are cramming onto buses and into offices, what’s not to love about that?
For years, workers have been told that they must accept change, especially new ways of working, regardless of how it might affect their lives, often not in a good way. Now, we have change that clearly can benefit many workers and suddenly the government issues propaganda through its preferred newspaper suggesting that somehow workers are and have been in the wrong.
There have been few positives about COVID-19 but the move to home-working is definitely one. It’s time for the government to adapt to the very changes working people have already adapted to. When and if jobs are lost, it won’t be the fault of the workers.