Union criticises Powys Council: ‘Talk to staff before you make announcements in the newspapers’

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%
No                                                                                                       10.5%
Q. If not, do you think it would be possible for your job to be done from home if you had the right support?
Yes                                                                                                     16.2%
No                                                                                                       78.8%
I don’t know                                                                                      5.1%
Q. Did your employer conduct a homeworking risk assessment?
Yes                                                                                                     38.8%
No                                                                                                       61.7%
Q. Did your employer provide you with any health and safety guidance about working from home?
Yes                                                                                                     66.4%
No                                                                                                       33.6%
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%
Same                                                                                                  45.9%
Less frequent                                                                                   31.5%
Q. Has working from home effected your physical health?
Improved                                                                                            20.6%
Stayed same                                                                                     44.5%
Deteriorated                                                                                      35%
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%
Other                                                                                                  12.6%
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%
Deteriorated                                                                                      33.8%
Q. How has working from home effected your work-life balance?
Improved                                                                                            43.9%
Stayed the same                                                                              28.7%
Deteriorated                                                                                      27.4%
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%
Other                                                                                                  39.9%


Alastair Gittins, UNISON Cymru Wales press officer on 07816 53 83 97