Things are heading in the “wrong direction”. Infections are on the rise, which inevitably is going to lead to more hospital admissions and deaths according the Prime Minister and his senior medical advisers. The second wave is here. The only real question is the trajectory of infections. Over 12.7 million people in England, 2.4 million in Wales and 1.8 million in Scotland are in local lockdowns. The Government’s Chief Medical Adviser has said the only way to stop the spread of the virus is to cut down our social contacts as much as possible.

In a note to staff, Jo Harris, Managing Director of Lloyds Community Bank, said: “In the coming days, we’ll start talking to you about making more opportunities to safely serve our customers in person, within all guidelines and where both you and the customer are happy to do so”.

So, face-to-face interviews are going to start again in the next few days. Is this the act of a responsible employer? Accepting that we all have to learn to live with the virus, is it right when millions are in lockdown and the number of infections are rising to put both customers and staff at increased risk? We think not. The timing of the bank’s announcement couldn’t be worse. Ms Harris implies that customer interviews will be voluntary but doesn’t say so in as many words. She needs to be more explicit.  Voluntarism is fine but, in the real world, we all know that what starts off being apparently (but not really) voluntary invariably ends up becoming compulsory for some staff, through line management pressure and coercion. That said, the vast majority of line managers will do the right thing, as they have throughout the pandemic, but there will be those who will only see this as an opportunity to increase sales performance. Equally, the bank shouldn’t be putting customers in the position of feeling under pressure to visit branches to do things that they could quite easily do over the phone. As a responsible organisation, the bank should be doing everything to help customers limit their social contacts not increase them.

Ms Harris goes on to say: “We are encouraging our local leaders to apply their judgement during local lockdowns to allow colleagues to leave work when the branch is closed and the day’s meaningful work is complete, to help you avoid end of day traffic and have a safer journey home where possible”. Why does there need to be any judgement on this issue? If the bank thinks that staff in local lockdown areas should be allowed to leave early – which they should – then it should just say so and stop trying to complicate things. All staff should be treated the same in lockdown areas. You can’t have one manager saying that staff can go home early and another saying they can’t. If one was being cynical one would conclude that the bank is giving the impression of being concerned but in reality, hoping that things will carry on as normal.  Ms Harris needs to make a decision – all staff in lockdown areas should go home at 4pm – and then communicate it clearly. Members should view the decision not to be clear with considerable scepticism.

Members with any questions on this should contact the Union’s Advice Team on 01234 262868 (choose Option 1).

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