Staff at Her Majesty’s Passport Office (“HMPO”) have been told to return to work as early as this week, amid fears this measure could put their and their families’ lives at risk.
The decision was announced on 7 April during a conference call with Myrtle Lloyd, HMPO’s Chief Operating Officer. In her address she echoed the concerns over the social and economic consequences of the ongoing pandemic as expressed earlier by World Health Organisation expert David Nabarro. He had suggested that if the virus is not taken seriously the UK “will become overwhelmed” and that “it will be very hard to get the economy and society working again as we want it to”.
The controversial move to re-open the Passport Office may include asking up to 2,000 staff to return to work, with 500 working at any one time. HMPO has centres in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport and Peterborough.
HMPO’s announcement stated that “Her Majesty’s Passport Office is fully adhering to public health advice across all of its offices and adopting social distancing measures to keep both its staff and customers safe”.
HMPO also confirmed that “It continues to operate at substantially restricted staffing levels with a significant number of people working from home where possible, and staff are prioritising emergency cases,” such as processing applications needed for ID purposes, especially where the applicants are doctors or nurses.
Specialist software for processing applications and the need to adhere to strict security protocols make it impossible to operate remotely. A skeleton staff is therefore required to work from the office to ensure that “when we start our recovery we are not overwhelmed by our demands”, Myrtle Lloyd said.
However, the Public and Commercial Services Union General Secretary Mark Serwotka has called the HMPO’s decision to ask officers to return to work in the midst of the coronavirus crisis “absolutely scandalous” and “extremely irresponsible”. Members of staff also expressed their outrage by stating that the HMPO’s “actions are going to kill people” and threatening to sue HMPO and the Home Office for negligence. Questions have also been raised as to how employees would travel to work without using public transport.
According to the BBC, the Home Office’s deputy scientific adviser, Rupert Shute, claimed that staying at home was important but “we also have to keep functioning our lives”, adding that “You are no more at risk at the workplace as you would be in your home or at the supermarket. It is about minimising it”.
Mr Shute’s arguments echo the Government’s earlier plans to help the UK population develop “heard immunity”. However, these plans were set aside following severe criticism and after it was revealed that a lockdown would be needed to reduce the infection rate and protect frontline NHS workers.
Please note that the information in this blog is current at the date and time of posting. The situation regarding policy and guidance based on the COVID-19 pandemic is subject to change at short notice. We shall be monitoring all aspects of UK immigration which may be impacted by the coronavirus closely, so please do keep updated with further blogs and articles which we will be posting on this site.
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