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‘Gross negligence’ from tax bosses putting workers' lives in danger

Union secure closure of one office after death but warns mandarins are blocking vital safety measures

PRESSURE to close all government tax offices where there have been cases of coronavirus mounted today after one was forced to shut following the death of a civil servant who worked there.

The closure of Trinity Bridge House in Salford, Greater Manchester, came following intense pressure on HM Revenue & Customs chiefs from the Public & Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents more than 180,000 Civil Service workers.

The coronavirus death in Salford was followed by the reported infection of another worker who had been instructed by bosses to continue working in the office.

A second tax worker died in an HMRC tax office at Peterlee in County Durham, leading to further demands from the union and staff for action at all Civil Service offices nationwide.

The union insisted on the move to protect staff whom management defines as “key workers” and who are being instructed to continue going into work by Civil Service bosses.

PCS said that “key” staff were being made to work with little regard for social distancing in their offices. And the union accused Civil Service chiefs of “gross negligence” following the deaths in Salford and Peterlee.

PCS said that in Salford there were only “patchy social-isolation measures, no corona contact tracing and a failure to deep clean the office while a number of corona cases have been reported.

“Despite high-level talks between the Cabinet Office and PCS, Civil Service management refused to take the necessary action to protect staff at a time of national crisis.

“We are demanding offices where there have been cases of coronavirus or suspected cases close and staff be allowed to work from home while management undertake a deep clean; contact tracing for those infected; and only reopen offices after a joint health and safety inspection.”

Bosses shut the Salford office at 4pm today after crunch talks with the union. It will remain closed initially until Tuesday April 14, and staff will work from home.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The government must act to protect key civil servants in a time of national crisis where they are risking serious ill health and death by continuing to go into work.”

He said it had been “incomprehensible” that bosses refused to act following the Salford death and subsequent infection.  

“Our members want to work supporting businesses and the most vulnerable access the support they need. But they must be allowed to work in safe conditions.”

The two deaths at HMRC offices come as Britain saw its biggest rise in daily coronavirus deaths in hospitals today with 854, taking the total to 6,227.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “We can confirm that two HMRC staff members, one in our Salford office and one in our Peterlee office, have sadly passed away.

“Our sincere condolences go to their families and friends and we are offering support to their colleagues. It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.

“Our front-line teams of key workers are doing a vital job to support the UK — protecting people’s livelihoods, keeping cash in businesses, helping people to stay employed, providing benefits for families and bringing in funds for essential services like the NHS.
 
“The safety of our people is our number-one priority. Colleagues who don’t need to be in the office are working from home, and we’re following public-health advice to keep our offices safe where our services can’t be delivered from home.”

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