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The potential for workers in Wales to be fined if they go to their office when they could do their job from home has been described as a “story without substance” by First Minister Mark Drakeford.
The Welsh Government has amended legislation to make attending a workplace unnecessarily a criminal offence carrying a £60 fine, with employers facing a £1,000 penalty.
But amid the spread of the Omicron variant, people in Wales will still be allowed to leave home to visit pubs and restaurants and there is no limit on household mixing.
The amended legislation states “no person may leave the place where they are living, or remain away from that place, for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services” when it is “reasonably practicable” to do so from home.
It adds that anyone who contravenes this rule “commits an offence” punishable by a fine of £60.
Mr Drakeford told a Welsh Government press conference: “It is a story without substance. The rules that we are introducing are exactly the rules that we had earlier in the pandemic.
“They are not some new set of rules, they are designed to protect workers, not to penalise them.
“No fines were issued at all when these rules were previously in place.
“They are there to make sure that if a worker feels that an employer is unreasonably expecting them to be in the workplace when they could work from home, they are able to point to the regulations and make it clear that they would be committing an offence were they to do so.
“It is to protect workers not to penalise them. When these rules were in place earlier in the pandemic they worked very well.
“They will work very well again, and I’m very grateful to the employer organisations, the CBI and to the Wales TUC, for their help in making sure that correct message about what the regulations mean is being communicated in workplaces and to employees as well.”
The Wales TUC has called on the Welsh Government to repeal the legislation to remove the fines.
General secretary Shavanah Taj said: “A worker is not responsible for their place of work, their employer is.
“This sets a really worrying precedent that the responsibility is somehow shared, and is at best naive.”
Kelly Andrews, GMB senior organiser, added: “We think this strikes the wrong chord.
“We have major worries that this could lead to bad employers pressuring their workers to work away from home without a paper trail and place any financial risk on them.
“Those workers are also the most vulnerable and can least afford to take the financial hit.
“But the truth is, for a lot of families a £60 fine over Christmas will have a severe financial impact.”