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Companies hit back at MPs’ coronavirus concerns

Companies accused by MPs of needing to do more to ensure their staff can work from home during the coronavirus pandemic have hit back, claiming they are providing essential services and helping staff to work from home where possible, writes Richard Beecham.

A number of Yorkshire MPs – including Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves – have signed a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the government clarifies which telephone services are essential, after reports of companies still requiring staff to work from offices.

The letter claimed MPs had been ‘inundated’ with call centre staff from Capita, Direct Line, Plusnet and Lloyds who had been asked to come into work, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter, drafted by Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel (Lab) claims, having made enquiries with West Yorkshire Police, that MPs were informed the Government has used the term ‘telecommunications’ within their key worker guidance, meaning police could not take action against those organisations or insist that their workers work remotely.

MPs also complained it was unclear why certain telephone-based jobs could not be run remotely and there have been ‘several reports’ of staff being made to come in who do not fall into that category.

However, since the letter was sent, the four companies named in the letter have now responded.

A statement sent on behalf of the Lloyds Banking group claimed the work its telephone staff were doing was ‘critical’, adding it was allowing all staff who could work from home to do so. It read:

“The health and wellbeing of colleagues and customers is our priority, and we continue to follow UK Government advice to ensure everyone remains safe.

“Our colleagues in call centres play a critical role in supporting our most vulnerable customers with their essential banking needs at this challenging time for the country, whether that’s helping someone arrange a mortgage holiday or extending their overdraft.

“We have already advised all colleagues who can work from home to do so, and we are actively looking at how we can enable more colleagues to work from home, including those in customer-facing roles. If a colleague is not involved in providing an essential service to our customers, they have been told not to come into work at this time.”

Leeds MPs who had signed the letter include Mr Sobel, as well as Hilary Benn, Richard Burgon, Rachel Reeves and Fabian Hamilton.

A statement from the Direct Line Group claimed only a fraction of its offices were full, since it moved thousands of its staff to home working.

It read:

“We have undertaken a large-scale operation so that as many of our people can work from home and continue to serve our customers.

“Nine thousand of our office based staff are now working  remotely and securely.

“We currently have a minimal number of people fulfilling essential roles at our sites, less than 1.5 per cent of our normal office capacity, and we have enhanced our operating procedures and changed our working patterns so that we can ensure social distancing to protect them.

“We’re adhering to social distancing in all our offices and branches and reminding colleagues of the precautions they need to take, such as more frequent hand washing. Hand sanitiser is available in all locations and our buildings are subject to enhanced cleaning.”

A Capita spokesperson said

“The top priority of Capita at this very difficult time is the well-being of our people.

“Many of our employees work for clients in sectors including utilities, telecommunications and financial services, who continue to need services in these challenging times.

“We have made arrangements for as many of our colleagues to work from home as possible, and have been increasing our capacity to support remote working every day.

“From now on, the only people who will be working from a Capita office are Key Workers as defined by the Government, or who are within an Exceptional Category of people providing other essential services – and for whom it remains not possible to work from home.

“Where home working is not possible, we are making adjustments in our workplaces to ensure that we are following all Government guidelines, including on social distancing and handwashing.

“We are constantly reviewing our practices as government guidance changes.”

A Plusnet spokesperson said it was asking its “most important people” to come into contact centres, and that the company had arranged for employees to work from home “where possible”.

A statement said:

“We are working to do as much as we can to keep our customers connected and our people safe during this difficult time for us all. This is why we’re asking our most important people to come into our contact centres, so customers can get the help they need and stay connected.

“More than ever before, everyone in the UK needs digital connectivity – whether that’s families, home workers, or vulnerable people who are isolating. We can only keep the UK connected thanks to the efforts and commitment of our brilliant teams in our contact centres.

“Our people in contact centres have key worker status because they are, as outlined by the Government, necessary for the continuation of the essential service we provide. We have arranged for as many of our people work from home wherever possible, and the safety and well-being of our key workers is our main priority so we’re doing a number of things to look after them whilst they are working so hard to keep our customers connected.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. As a former call centre worker with a couple of these companies, I would state that it is difficult for staff to do these jobs at home as they access confidential customer data eg. bank accounts. Access can be controlled in the office, but at home it is difficult – they can’t control who may be looking over the staff member’s shoulder, taking photos of the screen etc. Also the difficulty in taking customer calls when there may be children shouting and music playing etc.

    MPs just show their ignorance of modern workplaces when they make complaints like this.

  2. There’s a reason for the number of complaints, despite what “Techno” says I’m glad the mps are putting pressure on companies, I work for one of the companies listed and they have compromised peoples health on various levels. The company I work for held a meeting in Feb about covid19 and home working was one option mentioned however the company decided not to invest in homeworking to cut costs as they brushed the whole crisis off and over the past week I have pushed the company on allowing me to go off as I suffer from underlined health issues yet they refused to let me go, I advised I live with people who are extremely vulnerable and they brushed it off, there has been no cleaning products such as hand wash or sanitizer the only thing i received last week was 1 hygiene wipe at the start of my week. After pushing I finally got told I can stay off but will only receive ssp for 2 weeks out of 12.

    I have spoken to several colleagues with underlined health issues who have taken drs letters and still been forced to work.

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