I am writing to report further to a meeting Trade Union Side had with DfC management this morning regarding the coronavirus, our fourth meeting in the last week.

Closure of all Offices to the Public

NIPSA has called for the closure of all DfC offices to the public as a means to protect both staff and also service delivery to the public. We have made this demand to senior management and also the Minister. However, management confirmed that they are working to advice from the Public Health Agency and that offices will remain open to deal with emergency cases only.

This being the case, we have asked for improved signage in offices to confirm the Minister’s position, advice for the public regarding social distancing, a vetting process should the numbers visiting offices become an issue and advice for staff on social distancing, both regarding the public and with other staff colleagues. Management confirmed they have already been working on some of this.

Agency Workers

We again raised the need for agency workers to receive the same financial protections as permanent staff and management confirmed that salary protections are being considered by the Minister and the NI Executive. We also raised concerns that some agency staff had been advised that if an office closed, their contract would end. Management stated that they have no control over contracts as that was an issue for Premiere People but it was not their intention to close any office and staff delivered a critical service that needed to continue.

Cleaning

We raised concerns that the cleaning regime was not what it needed to be. Management confirmed that Aramark had agreed to increase cleaning and that this would be more focused on touch points and common areas. Discussions with Noonan were ongoing. They stated that Public Health Agency guidance was being followed and it was important to resolve issues quickly but also to be measured when assessing the risk.

Vulnerable Staff

Management confirmed that any staff member who falls under the vulnerable group list provided by government, should immediately raise this with their line manager with the objective of removing themselves from the workplace. If any staff member is following government advice, they will be paid for this absence. These staff may be asked to work from home if this is possible.

If a member considers that they are at risk but do not fall within the vulnerable group list, then they should raise this with their line manager with a view to putting measures in place to mitigate any risk to them.

Social Distancing

TUS again raised the need for clear guidance for members of the public regarding social distancing including a triage service for JBOs and information on when they should come to the office. It was also critical that guidance was provided to managers about social distancing in workplaces including staggered start and finish times, staggered breaks, rearranging office layout to provide more space between staff, working in unused offices and cleaning desks and equipment after use. Increased personal hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, remains a high priority.

School Closures

TUS understands that the majority of staff in DfC, and all staff in Work & Health and Supporting People directorates, will be classified as critical under the new procedures linked to school closures. While details on this have still to be sorted, this will likely mean that any staff who cannot organise childcare due to school closures, will be able to present their children to their schools from Monday. Members should seek information on this from their children’s schools

We appreciate the considerable efforts being made by members to continue to deliver a service to all our communities in this difficult situation. And we know that further flexibility will likely be called upon by management. Please ensure that Local TUS are engaging with local management and should branches need any assistance, please contact your seconded officer or contact me at NIPSA HQ. We have a further meeting on Monday afternoon and I will write to you again following this.

Dooley Harte
Assistant Secretary