The Tories on Friday ramped up their drive to get people back to offices with a mixture of contrived compassion and thinly-veiled threats.
Ministers toured TV and radio studios earnestly discussing the “terrible effect on mental health” that working from home can have. But almost in the same breath they warned that working from home could mean losing your job.
A government source told the right wing Telegraph newspaper that if bosses only rarely saw workers in person “that could prove problematic for some employees in the future. We want employees to be careful what working arrangements they accept.”
The threats were echoed yesterday by the CBI organisation which demanded that city centre offices fully re-opened, or risk them becoming part of a “ghost town”.
Business as usual
The bosses’ group have been one of the main drivers of a political campaign to get all schools back by the beginning of the September, keenly aware that this is the only way to return to “business as usual”.
However, CBI boss Dame Carolyn Fairbairn’s concern for workers from “dry cleaners to sandwich bars” doesn’t go that far. She admitted to BBC Radio 4 that she will only be going into her office for two days a week from September – and that she doesn’t expect her staff to “come to the office until at least the end of the year”.
Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn found a new way to try to divide workers by saying “one person's Working From Home is another's P45”. He added, “So why is it safe enough for White Van Man to go to work, but not White Blouse Woman?”
However, Littlejohn then admitted that, “like most people who write for a living, I’ve worked from home for the past 30-odd years”.
Large numbers of workers—many with heath conditions that make them particularly vulnerable, or living with those who do—are only too aware of the risks of working in an office.
First, there is danger of getting to work using public transport. There are no guarantees that commuters will be able to keep a reasonable social distance, particularly with the school term about to begin.
Second, there are hazards associated with offices. How many people with illnesses such as diabetes or asthma would be happy to cram into a lift with others who may be carrying the virus? With many city centre buildings having 20 floors or more, what would be the alternative?
On these matters, and so many more, ministers and bosses are absolutely silent.
Their demand for a return to work and school has nothing to do with our mental health and well-being. It has only to do with profits.