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Recall of Belfast Passport Office staff to work scandalous: union

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Mark Serwotka. (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mark Serwotka. (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Mark Serwotka. (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The callback of dozens of Belfast staff to return to work at the Passport Office has been branded as "scandalous".

As many as 2,000 workers at Her Majesty's Passport Office UK-wide are reportedly being asked to make themselves available to work.

It is understood around 300 staff work at the Belfast office, and around 100 staff could be brought back to what staff say is clearing a backlog of applications, and not essential work.

International travel has effectively ceased amid the global coronavirus pandemic, with the majority of countries affected closing their borders in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

Here, it's understood staff were sent home on March 24, and told not to return due to the global threat of coronavirus - but were then told at the end of last week they would be returning sooner.

Some staff were then brought back on Wednesday, it is understood, and told they would also be returning to work next week.

It is also understood some staff have already objected and do not wish to return, while others have gone back to their office.

"It is absolutely scandalous that Her Majesty's Passport Office are suggesting our members can go back into work during a pandemic to process routine passports," said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, which claims up to 25% of its members are being asked to return to offices on rotas across the UK.

For the deputy chief scientific adviser at the Home Office to suggest that going into work does not put you at greater risk of contracting coronavirus is extremely irresponsible and totally contradicts current Government guidance Mark Serwotka

"The cavalier approach to our members' health and safety is shameful and ultimately puts them in greater danger of contracting Covid-19," Mr Serwotka said.

"We have already had members die as a result of contracting coronavirus and pressured Civil Service managers in other departments to shut offices so staff can work from home.

"For the deputy chief scientific adviser at the Home Office to suggest that going into work does not put you at greater risk of contracting coronavirus is extremely irresponsible and totally contradicts current Government guidance."

The PCS union said Mr Serwotka met Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove this week to raise the issue of passport staff being forced back to offices to deal with applications.

Her Majesty's Passport Office is fully adhering to public health advice across all our offices and adopting social distancing measures to keep both its staff and customers safe Home Office spokesperson

A Home Office scientific adviser reportedly told staff in a conference call on Tuesday that they expected 80% of the population would eventually become infected anyway, insisting: "We cannot hide away from it forever."

In a statement, the Home Office said: "Her Majesty's Passport Office is fully adhering to public health advice across all our offices and adopting social distancing measures to keep both its staff and customers safe.

"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. Guidance is also available for people who are travelling into work.

"It was made clear in the meeting that the Government's priority is slowing the spread of coronavirus and we all have a part to play in order to protect the NHS and save lives."

Belfast Telegraph