Office of National Statistics staff in Manchester refuse to spend two days a week in office

The ONS in Manchester -Credit:STEVE ALLEN
The ONS in Manchester -Credit:STEVE ALLEN

Employees at the Office for National Statistics, including those at its offices in Manchester, are refusing to comply with an instruction to spend two days a week in offices, it's been announced by a union.

More than 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) say they will not be 'forced back' to the office 40 per cent of the week.

The employees, based in Newport, South Wales, Titchfield in Hampshire, London, Darlington, Manchester and Edinburgh, have already voted in favour of strikes and other forms of industrial action in protest at the drive for more office-based working.

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The union said that, from May 8, their members will not comply with the instruction. The Manchester offices of the ONS are based on Oxford Street in Manchester city centre.

Many staff already willingly spend more than 40 per cent of their working time in the office, but there is widespread upset about the arbitrary nature of the new directive, said the PCS.

A spokesman said: "Following a promise by management that staff could continue to work flexibly after the Covid pandemic, some workers started families, moved house and made other long-term commitments, safe in the knowledge, they thought, their working conditions were secure."

PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote said: "Our members are a highly skilled and capable workforce and they deserve to be treated as such, showing for several years they can successfully manage hybrid working.

"The new policy threatens serious disruption, especially for staff with childcare and other caring responsibilities, and those who live a considerable distance from their designated office. The workforce at ONS is spread across the UK, meaning that regardless of where staff perform their work, most meetings and collaboration must have a virtual presence.

"Mandated office attendance removes the flexibility and trust that was promised to staff by senior leaders, which staff understandably shaped their lives around, for the sake of meeting an unnecessary attendance percentage."

An ONS spokesperson said: “We continue to engage with our departmental trade unions and are disappointed PCS has chosen to take industrial action despite the range of flexibilities built into our hybrid working arrangements.

"While we do not expect this action to have any significant impact on the production of key ONS statistics, we believe firmly that a reasonable level of office attendance – in line with the wider Civil Service – is in the best interests of the ONS and all our colleagues. Face-to-face interaction supports personal collaboration, learning and innovation."