As the country enters a new phase in response to the corona virus and cases are moving at an alarming rate, politics is moving back and forth to a new arena: the restrooms, bedrooms, and studies of millions of British workers.
“The economy needs to get people back to work,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Robb told the BBC this week.
The tone is sharper in most British media. Read the headline in a newspaper column by Caroline Fairbane, head of the Confederation of British Industry, “Ghost Town Britain has joined the workforce and Boris Johnson must pave the way.”
Shelley Asquith, health, safety and welfare policy officer at TUC, the UK’s Congress of Trade Unions, describes the national debate about returning to work as a game of blame.
“There has been a comprehensive effort by some media outlets to find out that a lot of people who work from home are not really working,” she told CNN Business. “I have no idea how hard people work at Lockdon.”
“Some of the rhetoric that has been used recently … is horrendous,” added Phil Taylor, who conducts research on homework experiences for the Institute of Employment Rights, adding, “It draws attention away from gross negligence. Government for several months.
“Life is in danger here,” Taylor told CNN Business. “If people don’t want to go back to the office, don’t blame everyone.”
‘This is incredibly irresponsible’
Despite weeks of hard work from government ministers, the complexities of returning to the UK office can be summed up in a commercial response to a cleaning detergent last week.
Widely advertised for cleaning agent Dettol London’s underground network has gone viral with all the misguided lists of “little things we love” in the office, such as “carry a handbag,” “take a lift,” and “accidental reply-everything.”
“Thank you for convincing me to work from home forever,” commented historian Alex von Thunselman, which contains the thoughts of many online commentators.
“If it serves as a reminder of wanting to work from home for something,” Asquith added.
“Where workers are very close to each other, these infections are more likely to occur,” Taylor said, adding that multiple call centers across the country are reopening, only to close due to an increase in infection.
Taylor’s research shows that people are recognizing serious problems in the work environment. “The labor density of existing office spaces makes it impossible to maintain an effective social distance.”
Concerns about the economy are central – Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, told CNN Business that while homework increases the number of local and residential high streets, urban centers remain more desolate than they were last year. Pandemic affected the high street food and coffee chain after they immediately abandoned pedestrian traffic and failed to return to pre-locked down levels.
A paradigm shift in the way the British work
Pandemic has unleashed a new era of homework that many workers do not want to give up – and this is becoming a major issue for the government.
“One of the things that has happened as a result of this lockdown is that people have found places that are easier to work with and attract less attention – and there are benefits to working from home,” said Paul Burnell.
“More people have identified than I expected and more than the government expected,” he told CNN Business.
Bernal is one of countless workers opposed to government messaging, and hopes for more flexible arrangements in the future.
He opposed any suggestion that it would affect productivity. “I created a lot of hell while I was locked up – maybe more than ever,” he said.
“People think that the government and the media are hypocrites and they want people to take risks for the benefit of others, not for their own gain,” he added. “The suggestion that by choosing to work from home we are somehow selfish and sacrificing ourselves for more good things – but what is the big advantage here?
“Achieving a good work-life balance is actually much better.”
When officials try to bring people back to cities and towns on a daily basis, that feeling is sure to cause problems for officials.
New ways of thinking about work have not been discussed in Britain – but for many trade unions and workers it is time for them.
When conflicts erupt between the two camps, spending five days a week in the office does not seem to be the norm again in the United Kingdom. “It’s time to change the way people work,” said Taylor, of the Institute for Employment Rights.