UK Labour Party tells staff to get back to the office

LONDON — Workers for the U.K.’s Labour Party accused the organization of pressuring staff back into the office — despite publicly calling on employers to “embrace” flexible working. 

An email sent to staff at Labour headquarters last month, seen by POLITICO, read: “There’s a strong need for people to work together in the same place to help build strong working relationships, to promote team working, creativity and collaboration as well as to welcome and assist new starters to our organization.”

It added: “For our party to succeed and, crucially, to win elections, we need to safely, and successfully, work together in person again. This can take place alongside flexible and working at home arrangements, as we have all learned to adapt to these changing circumstances.”

The memo, sent by Labour’s head of HR Martin Beecroft ahead of COVID restrictions being lifted, made extensive reference to mitigation measures in the office and support for people who need to self-isolate.

However, members of staff said they felt “scared” and “pressured” by the communication, which came in the midst of a major redundancy trawl as Labour seeks to rescue its ailing finances.

One party official said: “Management were trying to force us back during the pandemic. Now they’re gaslighting us, saying it’s good to come in for our wellbeing, while they hang the threat of redundancy over us. 

“I’ve never known anything like it in the party. Me and my colleagues feel pressured to turn up and scared for our future.”

Others claimed senior managers were unhappy at the absence of staff from the office in April, during the build-up to local elections, when government guidance was still to work from home if possible.

Trade union representatives from Unite and the GMB have appealed to the senior management to be more flexible, according to several party employees.

A former aide to the party said managers had sent a “clear message to staff that they have to come back to work from Southside [the London headquarters].” He said that message had been “reinforced” in briefings on Thursday at which employees were told which departments were likely to see job cuts ahead of a forthcoming restructuring.

Labour Party workers have raised concerns over a lack of ventilation and social distancing in the office.

In an interview with the Guardian last week, leader Keir Starmer said ministers and civil service bosses were “wrongheaded” to try to make people come back to the office and should not be standing in the way of working from home.

Starmer has promised a “right to flexible working,” and urged employers: “Don’t stand in the way of that change. Actually embrace it, and put a framework around it.”

On Tuesday staff will receive details of “Organise to Win,” a plan drawn up by former civil service chief Bob Kerslake and head of finance Simon Mills to overhaul the party structure. 

Some employees, including political advisers to the shadow cabinet, were warned to expect redundancies in their departments, before the Labour Party posted adverts for several central job vacancies at the weekend.

The Labour Party was contacted for comment.

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