Some public service employers are flouting Covid-19 rules and requiring staff to attend the workplace during the Level 5 restrictions, the largest union representing State employees has said.
Fórsa said far too many public servants were being required to travel to work to perform roles that could and should be done remotely at the height of the pandemic.
It said the tone of guidelines issued to public bodies resulted in “macho-managment” which “fails to put public safety first by properly distinguishing between those who need to be in the workplace right now and those who don’t”.
Fórsa said it believed staff and service-users were “being unnecessarily exposed to potentially virus-spreading interactions in workplaces and on public transport” which would likely impede efforts to contain the disease. It said the national effort could be undermined by the failure of management to properly identify which workers need to be present to undertake essential functions during the pandemic.
The union maintained that across all sectors, including the Civil Service and local authorities, staff who could operate from home were being asked to go to the workplace.
Fórsa said it had “repeatedly raised the issue of unnecessary workplace attendance in social protection, where all Intreo offices remain open and back-of-house staff continue to be required to attend offices”.
The Department of Social Protection said the services it provided were "essential" and it would continue to deliver these during the pandemic.
However, it said it was doing all it could to minimise the necessity for staff to attend their offices or engage directly with clients subject to continuing to provide its services.
It said it had promoted online services and video and telephone contacts as well as restricting walk-in opening hours at Intreo centres. It said some clients had addiction issues, were homeless or had poor literacy and numeracy skills and depended on walk-in centres.
Fórsa also maintained that health and social professionals were continuing tohaveface-to-face interactions with patients.
Éamonn Donnelly, head of Fórsa’s health and welfare division, said in a letter to the HSE that given that health and social care professionals had been equipped with the resources “to conduct patient interactions remotely and that Government policy is geared clearly towards reducing footfall and activity which involves direct contact in the community, it is neither feasible nor responsible to insist on a policy of face-to-face interactions where same can be avoided through remote working”.
The union said that guidelines issued to public service managers fell short of official Government advice to employers across the economy, “with the result that there has been no significant reduction in the numbers of public service staff being instructed to travel to work since the country entered Level Five restrictions last month”.
“Yet there are many more public servants being ordered into the workplace now than last March, when infection rates were lower and the pressure on our health service was considerably less severe.”
The Department of Public Expenditure said the guidance on working during the pandemic for civil and public service personnel was alignedwith the Resilience and Recovery Plan, which covered all sectors, “and therefore cannot be considered weaker than guidance given to the rest of the economy”.
“Guidance is provided for the entire public service with all its diverse roles and therefore it must be flexible enough to provide for individual sectors and employers to consider their own specific circumstances and working arrangements under each of the levels.”