Following the announcement by the Government over the weekend re-introducing some of the Covid-19 protocols from earlier in the year, namely the use of masks in shops and on public transport, Unite in AXA have called on the company to reinstate some of its own.
Whilst the Government has not mandated the wearing of masks in offices it is somewhat incongruous that an employee has to wear a mask to get to work but has no requirement to do so when in work. We have asked AXA to reinstate the rule that when employees get up from their desk, that they should put on a mask to help protect their colleagues.
Also, whilst the requirement to work form home has not been reintroduced yet, we are asking the company to ensure that when staff are required to go in to the office, that there is some valid business reason, and is not just an arbitrary requirement to ensure an employee has been in the office a set number of days, regardless of any need for them to do so.
Hopefully these measures will help in the ingoing battle against Covid and help reduce the spread of the virus in the run up to Xmas.
Following Claudioâ€™s email to all staff yesterday evening we have been asked can AXA insist that employees wear a mask in the office after 19thÂ July â€œas it is no longer a legal requirement?â€
Short answer is yes.
AtÂ no point has it actually been a legal requirementÂ in England for staff working in an office to wear a mask. Those legal requirements were restricted to retail and hospitality.Â
However AXA UK decided thatÂ when staff were away from their deskÂ they should put a mask on to protect other employees. They are perfectlyÂ within their rights to do thisÂ as they need to make sure they are protecting all workers’ health and safety and wearing a mask protects others.
We appreciate some individuals may be unhappy with this but AXA has legal obligations to protect workers and this is one way they will be doing so in the immediate future. Refusal to comply with company instructions could well result in disciplinary action so please continue to put on your mask if you are in the office and away from your desk.
Last night the Government announced that it would be closing schools as part of the national lockdown, contradicting its position just 24 hours earlier and causing major problems for many parents.
Last year, to help parents, AXA extended its provision of paid emergency leave from five days to twenty which along with the ability to flex working patterns and holiday allowed many to cope with the circumstances they found themselves in.
Whilst the company has announced that the use of these twenty days can now be extended to April 2021, it is likely that most employees who have needed to use these days have probably used all of them in the first two lockdowns.
Most employees with childcare responsibilities in AXA will be able to manage their situation through working flexibly hours, taking holiday and sharing responsibilities with partners, although we appreciate that it can be difficult and stressful.
However there is a group of employees with younger children who in customer facing roles who cannot work flexibly and have no partner to share looking after their child(ren), and these need support beyond what the company is currently offering.
The Government Job Retention Scheme allows these employees to be furloughed and receive (at least) 80% of their salary, but the company has decided that it will not use the scheme, so this option which would address the problem is not available.
We have asked AXA to urgently review its policy to help this group of employees and solve a problem it has largely created itself by not utilising the scheme for the small number of employees who need the help it would provide.
If you have childcare responsibilities and have problems balancing them with your work in the first instance you should speak with your manager, but if you get no help there, please contact your local Unite in AXA rep for help.
The limited re-opening of AXA offices continues with Birmingham, Glasgow, Haverhill and Weybridge due to reopen with limited capacity over the next several weeks, with all those returning to the office doing so on a voluntary basis. As with all previous reopenings we have engaged actively with the company on your behalf, ensuring that health and safety is front and centre of the decision making process.
Whilst for many working from home will continue to be the norm for the time being, AXA are looking to ensure there is no drastic drop off in productivity. Consequently it may be in some business areas, where working from home has had a demonstrable negative impact on productivity, and if there is capacity in your local office (subject to social distancing requirements etc), that you may be asked to return to the office for some days a week.
This will only occur if your manager has demonstrated the necesity to do this due to a reduction in productivity.
If you have concerns about returning to the office (eg, you normally use public transport and have concerns over using it safely) or have child care issues or health issues, then in the first instance you should have a conversation with your manager who should address them and hopefully suggest ways of alleviating your concerns or problems.
If you are not satisfied with your managerâ€™s response, then please contact your local union reps who will work with you to try and reach a solution.
Monday will see AXA begin the process of re-opening some of its offices following the lockdown. In AXA Insurance these offices are Ipswich, Middlesbrough and Morecambe and less than 50 staff will be returning across the three sites. Additionally Ipswich and Middlesbrough will be used for some training before those staff return to working from home.
Unite in AXA have been heavily involved in consultation with the company over these reopenings and our primary focus has been on the health and safety of those returning. We have seen the in-depth risk assessments for the three sites and shared these with the lead union reps at each site for their input and challenge.
We have ensured that AXA provide masks to be worn by those that wish, checked social distancing protocols not only within the buildings but also outside in car parks etc. all to make sure those returning are kept as safe as possible.
Those returning will have to abide by certain rules not only for their own safety, but also that of their colleagues and we would encourage any members in this first tranche of returnees to make sure they know the rules and follow them.
The returning staff are those that have, for various reasons, been unable to work from home during the lockdown. AXA has confirmed that no employee is being forced to return to the office and if they do not feel comfortable at this stage, they will not be made to. If you are told to, or feel pressured by your manager to return to the office before you are comfortable, please speak to your local union rep.
This is the first phase of the re-opening process and the next stage with more sites re-opening is likely to be within the next few weeks depending on the success of phase one and the relaxing of Government guidlines. However, again, any further re-openings will be limited numbers of people wise and we are told on a voluntary basis.
Whilst social distancing protocols remain in place, it is not physically possible for the vast majority of workers to return to normal office work in AXA, so working from home for the majority is the new norm for the majority for the foreseeable future.
With that in mind we have been extremely vocal on the issue of AXA supplying the necessary equipments beyond just laptops and phones to allow you to work from home safely and comfortably. Hopefully the frustrating problems many have experienced have now been sorted and chairs, screens, desks etc are now being shipped to workers who need them. If you are still experiencing problems having your requirements agreed, please speak to your local Unite in AXA rep.
A number of members have approached us with concerns around the Cornonavirus outbreak and its implications from a work point of view. The subject is an evolving one and it is important to avoid speculation and sharing of erroneous information.
AXA UK has a ‘Coronavirus Hub’ with frequently updated FAQ that can be accessed via the company intranet here.
The NHS page with advice and common questions can be found here.
The Government page with travel information and guidance can be found here.
We are in ongoing consultation with the company and if you cannot find the answer to an immediate issue from the above, please speak to your local union rep and we will raise with the appropriate people at AXA.
We would ask though to try and avoid speculative what if questions (eg. what if schools close; something the Government views as unlikely at present). If these matters do become likely we will engage with the company to address them, but priority must be given to more immediate issues.