Socialist Worker

Worker dies after call centre is kept open

Issue No. 2699

Call centre workers often work in cramped conditions

Call centre workers often work in cramped conditions (Pic: The open university/flickr)


At least one public sector worker has died and another from the same office has taken ill with coronavirus after having to come into work.

HMRC tax office insiders report that a worker in a Salford call centre was found dead on Monday after going home with coronavirus symptoms the previous week. And in a sign that the illness could have been passed on at work, a colleague from the same building has now also been taken ill.

The death and illnesses lay bare the horrible human sacrifice that bosses are willing to make to keep people working.

Workers in HMRC offices across Britain say they’re still being forced to work in unsafe conditions—made all the more galling when they could be at home.

They say they are still having to sit too close together—and in at least one office have been given paper towels to open doors with in place of hand sanitiser.

One tax office worker and PCS rep told Socialist Worker, “Telephone staff are still in the offices. That’s around 7,000 people. We’re not convinced that all of the work they’re being asked to do is essential or can’t be done from home.”

They added, “We’re also not convinced that the health and safety of the staff in the offices is being looked at properly. There’s too many people in the building for social distancing to be done properly.”

Meanwhile, workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are facing similar worries. Jobcentre workers are still being made to come into their offices—despite being largely closed to the public.

We’re not convinced that the health and safety of the staff in the offices is being looked at properly. There’s too many people in the building for social distancing to be done properly.

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One PCS rep in the DWP told Socialist Worker, “Anger is running high in some offices. One manager said that the two metre distancing can’t be policed because if two consenting adults want to get close together that’s their business. It’s completely inappropriate aside from anything else.

“Everybody that can work from home should work from home. Because we’re not seeing the public there should be no reason for people to work in the office.”

Some workers who are more vulnerable to the risk of contracting the virus are already at home. But with a huge increase in applications for Universal Credit (see below) there’s pressure on them to come back into work.

And there are reports of managers in many offices suggesting that it’s safe for people with asthma to come into work.

“When that happens in several offices, I can’t believe that’s an accident,” another PCS rep told Socialist Worker. “They’re being told from the top to cross the line.”

DWP bosses are only now bringing in the equipment to allow people to work from home. It’s far too late, said one worker.

“We were petrified about this happening as far back as January—and we’ve been saying it since then. They should have sorted all of this before now. But they were slow because the government was slow.”

Tories and bosses delayed and refused to take action because they put business as usual ahead of people’s safety—and now they’re putting lives at risk


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