Powys County Council stands accused of disrespecting employees after staff first learned of their new working arrangements from reading a local newspaper.
The County Times reported last Friday that 1,300 workers at the authority could regularly work from home on a permanent basis under a planned restructure of council operations.
UNISON Cymru Wales says the council has failed to properly engage with employees on the matter and says no account has been taken of the additional energy costs staff will incur, not to mention employee welfare.
A UNISON study of Welsh public service workers in April this year revealed the mental and physical health of a third of people working from home has deteriorated because of the new ways of working.
The same proportion of workers had not received any health and safety guidance about working from home.
UNISON argues new ways of working should be agreed mutually, with staff able to work from home if they choose, rather than any coercion.
The trade union also points to generally lower paid workers on the front line in their communities, care workers, refuse workers and many others, who by the nature of their jobs do not have a choice about whether they wish to work from home. These workers shouldn’t be left behind in talks about new ways of working and employers need to think creatively about how greater flexibility can be offered in these roles too.
John Byrne, UNISON Powys County branch secretary, said,
“It’s not fair to learn about your work future by press release. Powys staff deserve better having been at the forefront of keeping vital services running for local people throughout the pandemic.
“Not everyone has been equally affected by home-working during the pandemic. Some appreciated the flexibility it offered, but for many others it’s meant longer working hours and a decline in their work-life balance.
“The council could be a shining example to other employers across Wales if it pro-actively supported staff in the new ways of working, listened to their views and involved their trade unions.
“Agreement to home-working should be mutual and Powys must recognise the additional costs for heating and lighting home-working staff will bear. It is essential employee welfare is at the core of any proposals and staff are provided with health and safety guidance.
“The council must be wary of unfair divides opening up, between the generally low paid front-line workers, for whom working from home is not an option and better paid who may be able to choose where they work.”
Notes for editors
- UNISON surveyed 947 workers delivering public services in the community, health, local government, further education, higher education, police and justice, water, environment, transport and energy sectors, across Wales in April 2021
Q. Before the Covid pandemic, which of the following best describes your job?
I never/ rarely work from home 77.4%
Occasionally I work from home 14%
I regularly work from home 6.1%
I work from home most days of the week 2.4%
Q. Since the Covid pandemic started in March 2020, have you worked from home some or all of the time?
Yes, all of time 54.9%
Yes, some of the time 34.6%
Q. If not, do you think it would be possible for your job to be done from home if you had the right support?
I don’t know 5.1%
Q. Did your employer conduct a homeworking risk assessment?
Q. Did your employer provide you with any health and safety guidance about working from home?
Q. Whilst working from home during the pandemic, have you got as much work done as when you’re working in the workplace?
More work 50.2%
Same amount of work 31.2%
Less work 18.6%
Q. Have you continued to work your contracted hours whilst working from home?
More hours 34.1%
Same hours 58.7%
Less hours 7.3%
Q. Working from home, has contact from your line manager been…
More frequent 22.6%
Less frequent 31.5%
Q. Has working from home effected your physical health?
Stayed same 44.5%
Q. How has working from home impacted on your physical health?
I’ve started experiencing musculoskeletal pain such as
backache/ hip pain 27%
I feel more fatigued 31.8%
I have developed a poor sleep pattern 23.7%
I have experienced eye strain 23.4%
I have experienced no physical health problem 38.6%
Q. How has working from home impacted on your mental health and well-being?
Improved 18.7 %
Stayed the same 47.5%
Q. How has working from home effected your work-life balance?
Stayed the same 28.7%
Q. Where would you like to work in the long term?
Permanently working from home 14.6%
Agile working (office and homeworking) 71.7%
Fully office based 13.8%
Q. What are the barriers that would make long-term working from home undesirable for you?
Health and safety considerations 18.2%
Mental health and well-being 50.8%
Costs too high 13.8%
Family circumstances don’t suit homeworking 14.6%
I am unable to adhere fully to GDPR regulations in my home 12%
Alastair Gittins, UNISON Cymru Wales press officer on 07816 53 83 97