I wish to advise all members of some key issues in these difficult times with some members working from home, others working in essential services and others who are self-isolating or in the vulnerable group or who are caring for a family member in the vulnerable group.
On behalf of the NIPSA I hope you and your family are staying safe in the current pandemic and I am sure you appreciate this is a difficult time for us all particularly in communicating with members and keeping them abreast of developments and the work of the union. Many of our representatives are also not in work and this means that the challenges of communicating with each and every one of you is more difficult. Therefore, I would be grateful if you could share this communication with colleagues via social media, email and any other method of communication.
NIPSA Headquarters and our Regional Office in Derry/Londonderry is closed in line with government advice and guidelines, but I wish to assure you that NIPSA is fully open for business with the majority of staff working remotely from home with the full range of services fully available. In order to assist members, keep abreast of key messages and updates the NIPSA website will be our primary source of communication. www.nipsa.org.uk You should check regularly for updates. For those of you on social media you can check our Facebook and twitter accounts regularly.
In relation to Covid-19 issues I want to brief you on the work which Officials, Seconded Officers and Representatives have been undertaking over the past 2 weeks to ensure that members are kept safe during the pandemic. This has been challenging environment in which to work and is certainly not all perfect in some cases. We are continually engaging with senior management in Departments and centrally to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of our members is paramount and where key workers cannot work from home, strict social distancing must be in place. Where members have any concerns you should check the NIPSA website for the contact details of your NIPSA Official/Seconded Officer. If you email them they will pick up your email and respond to you directly.
Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs:
Significant work has been ongoing between NIPSA and senior Management to resolve a number of issues.
Daily video conferences have taken place between senior Management and NIPSA. This has given the opportunity for issues to be raised and resolved. The majority of DAERA staff are now working from home and non-essential farm visits have been paused. Where offices are not closed NIPSA continues to monitor to ensure that the social distancing is being adhered to.
Department for Communities
There has been significant challenges in the early days in seeking to deliver benefits while protecting workers. NIPSA has played a vital role in securing appropriate social distancing in all workplaces. Other significant issues of concern have been cleaning in offices, especially on overtime, supporting members with special leave requests and agreeing rotas that both protect members while in work but seek to deal with the payment of benefits to the most vulnerable in our communities. Regular conference calls take place with senior Management and each and every issue that is brought to our attention is raised with senior management. The Minister for Communities has also agreed to speak once a week with NIPSA to discuss any issues of concerns. NIPSA accepts that with the large increase in benefit claims that solutions need to be found to protect the most vulnerable at this difficult time, however this cannot, and will not, be to the detriment of our members’ health, safety and wellbeing.
Department for Infrastructure:
Most staff are working remotely and there is regular engagement with the Management Side which allows for issues to be raised and dealt with at Departmental level.
NIPSA have queried the level of PPE available for members in Roads Service and risk assessments.
Department of Justice: Court Service
There are a number of areas where staff are deemed essential. In the Royal Courts of Justice NIPSA made representations regarding social distancing and the requirement for staff in the Office of Care and Protection to be in work. This resulted in additional laptops allowing the majority of staff to work from home, reducing staff to 3 on a rota basis which also provided the required social distancing. There is regular contact with management who are, where possible, resourcing laptops regarding other areas of Courts Service
Juvenile Justice/Youth Justice Agency
There is regular contact with management and Practitioners have been given laptops to work from home. Management have advised that staff who are essential have been given PPE.
NIPSA have been in constant communication, weekly conference calls and follow up emails regarding social distancing and PPE for members in prisons. This has led to some PPE being provided and some measures agreed to implement social distancing. Prison searches remain which management advised must continue, NIPSA continues to seek PPE for all staff. NIPSA has requested risk assessments to be carried out. NIPSA raised concerns about the cases of Covid-19 not being communicated to staff. The issue is ongoing.
The majority of staff are working from home.
Department for the Economy
All DfE buildings are now closed with the exception of Netherleigh with only a small number of staff present. Within that site there is a ready availability of antiviral wipes and hand sanitiser at all times and cleaning is done on a regular basis were staff are present. The majority of staff are now working from home with laptops
NIPSA remain concerned that a small number of staff remain within the Killymeal House building. NIPSA’s position is that it should be closed as it is not an essential service. Representations continue to be made. Department of Education: Most staff are working remotely and there is ongoing and regular engagement with the Management Side which allows for issues to be raised and dealt with at Departmental level. Department of Health: Most staff are working remotely and there is ongoing and regular engagement with the Management Side which allows for issues to be raised and dealt with at Departmental level.
All significant issues identified by members have been raised with management and resolutions have been found and implemented. Any concerns should be raised with the Seconded Officers or the Official for the area. Details on the NIPSA website.
The majority of staff are working remotely or have been advised to stay at home. The TUS Secretary remotely attends regular meetings of Covid19 Response Group. Any concerns should be raised with the TUS Secretary in the first instance or with the Official for the area.
Department of Finance
There is regular engagement between NIPSA and senior Management to deal with issues as they arise. The majority of offices have closed until at least 15 April. The majority of staff are working remotely or awaiting IT solutions to do so. Some processes can only be run in the office and of these IT, Pensions, Procurement, Finance are being delivered. Others such as Land Registry are seeking volunteers to provide a limited service again. The IT solution includes upping Secure Remote Access to 15,500 and aiming to reach 20,500 users across the NICS.
NIPSA made strong representations with management to secure Interviewers pay when they were laid off which concluded with management back paying all pay. Interviewers were also offered work which can be carried out online or by phone.
The majority admin staff are in working from home with laptops having been provided with only a few staff remaining in most buildings. Those who are essential workers have had PPE provided, social distancing in place, sanitiser and other health and safety measures have been put in place for frontline staff including full PPE, disposable suits, visors, respirator masks, goggles, gloves and sanitisers have been provided where necessary. NIPSA is in regular contact with the Management Side and issues to date have been worked through successfully. A specialised procurement team has been set up to establish supply chains. Testing kits have been procured for frontline staff or anyone who may need it. A dedicated email address has been set up for staff who believe they require PPE.
The majority of staff are working from home.
Management bought in laptops to allow all staff to work from home.
The majority of staff are working from home with no issues raised. I wish to put on record my personal thanks and that of the Civil Service Group Officers for all the work that has been done to date and will continue to be done in these unprecedented times.
We have been working hard to secure the same rights for Agency Workers, as permanent members of staff. Following engagement with the Finance Minister an announcement was made in Monday 23 March 2020 that Agency Workers in the NICS would be treated the same as permanent members of staff during the pandemic. Even following this announcement NIPSA has had to raise many issues, including pay issues to ensure that Agency Workers continued to receive their pay for example when they were self-isolating. I am aware that some Agency workers only received SSP in the first week, NIPSA was instrumental in challenging this and seeking to put this right. Any agency worker who continues to have problems should raise with their Seconded Officer of NIPSA Official – details of the relevant person is available on the home page of the NIPSA website.
Frequently Asked Questions
NIPSA continue to make ongoing representations on the Frequently Asked Questions that re-issued frequently on the Department of Finance website. While some of the issues have been accepted by the Management Side issues such as the treatment of those who have vulnerable persons living with them does not go far enough. NIPSA are currently escalating that issue to seek an acceptable resolution which meets with the current government guidance, on stay at home, stay safe and protect the NHS. This can only be done if families feel and are safe in these very challenging circumstances. Members should be assured we continue to press for a more flexible arrangement which deals with members who are key workers, who cannot work from home. NIPSA’s position is unambiguous if you live with a vulnerable person you should not be forced to potentially put their lives at risk and attend work which increases the risk of you contracting coronavirus and carrying it home to a loved one who is in the vulnerable group.
NI Engagement Forum
NIPSA is playing a key role in the NI Engagement Forum which is a forum established advise the Minister for the Economy and other Executive Ministers on a range of issues. A separate communication has been issued by the ICTU on this issue and the Minister for the Economy will in due course report on issues recommended by the Forum and accepted by the NI Executive.
At this very uncertain times it is important that anyone who has not already joined NIPSA and works in the NICS should use this as an opportunity to join and enjoy the full protection of the largest public service trade union in Northern Ireland. I can advise that we have been receiving a significant increase in membership over the last 2 weeks. Please encourage any non-member in your workplace to join NIPSA and ensure the rights of all workers are protected. Together we can get through this difficult time and be assured NIPSA is working as hard as possible to protect you, your family, your terms and conditions and rights at work and your health and safety.
Consideration is being given to how to progress the issue of the NICS Pay Offer given the limited number of staff in the workplace and the ability to properly consult members during the current crisis.
Further communications will be issued, primarily on the NIPSA website. www.nipsa.org..uk to keep you informed of issues and developments in the NICS.
Please stay safe during this pandemic.