Government to launch return to workplace campaign this week

31 August 2020, 23:03

British workers will be encouraged to return to work from Tuesday
British workers will be encouraged to return to work from Tuesday. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The government is set to launch its return to the workplace campaign this week in a bid to inject life back into Britain's offices.

Britain has been accused of lagging "well behind" EU countries in returning to work by the President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Lord Karan Bilimoria told LBC's Maajid Nawaz that only 34% of Britain's white-collar workforce has returned to the office, which is roughly half the Europe-wide average of almost 70%.

Meanwhile, eight in 10 white-collar workers in France have returned to their workplaces, with Italy's number at a similar level, and seven in 10 Germans have gone back to the office.

Lord Bilimoria said: "We are well behind the curve in getting back to work."

He added: "We've got to encourage people. They've got to feel confident and safe to return to work."

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The CBI president said that while lockdown had provided people with the opportunity to work efficiently from home, "there are huge benefits of going back to the office, not just for the local economy".

British workers will see, hear and read television and newspaper messages promoting the government's campaign to reduce the number of people working from home.

On Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC the government message is that "it is now safe to return to work".

"Where it is possible, people can now return to work, it is safe to do so," he said.

"Your employer should have put in Covid-friendly measures to ensure that people can work safely from their offices because there are just things which are impossible to do from home over Zoom videos as we're doing now.

"Gradually now people will start to return to the office, but I suspect we'll see more flexible working than we've seen in the past and it will be for employers and employees to work out the right balance in their particular cases."

Labour has previously criticised the plans as being "unconscionable", while the CBI said any return to work push should involve a "hybrid" approach that did not force people to return.

Labour's shadow business minister Lucy Powell said: "It beggars belief that the government are threatening people like this during a pandemic. Forcing people to choose between their health and their job is unconscionable.

"Number 10 should condemn this briefing and categorically rule out any such campaign."

Last week, a government spokesperson said: "We are working closely with employers across the country to help them make workplaces Covid-secure and give people confidence to go back to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Next week, we will showcase the benefits of returning safely to work and raise awareness of companies getting this right.

"We'll also provide practical steps businesses are taking to ensure offices are Covid secure as well as alternative ways of travelling to work."

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