Empty shopping mall in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Simon Collinson Empty shopping mall in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Simon Collinson

Tory attempts to square the circle of profits and public safety are becoming increasingly desperate, argues Lucy Nichols

Next week, the government will launch a campaign in England encouraging people to go back to working in offices after five months of working from home.

This campaign comes as hundreds of thousands of students prepare to go back to school, despite calls from teachers, parents and the NEU to delay this return to school until it is safe.

In light of the justified fears around offices becoming Covid-19 ground zeros, the government will ask employers to ‘take measures’ to ensure that this return to work is safe for workers. It is so far unclear what these measures will be.


Both the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the FDA (the civil servants’ trade union) have aired concerns about the viability of this planned return to work. Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC has called for the government to introduce a working test-and-trace system, safe childcare, and the enforcement of transport and workplace safety measures.

Given the government’s current record, it is unlikely that these demands will ever be implemented.

It will, for example, be virtually impossible to enforce social distancing on the London Underground: which not only puts passengers at risk, but endangers all platform staff, drivers and cleaners. The same can be said for buses, trams and commuter trains into large cities around England – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still encouraging people to work from home.

The motivation behind the push to return to overcrowded public transport and water-cooler gossip is based on the worry that city centres have become ghost towns, with businesses failing as a result of the sudden and dramatic loss of customers (though these businesses are largely huge multi-national conglomerates that avoid tax at all costs).


It is clear then that the survival of Pret a Manger is more important to the government than the lives of the many thousands of people who work office buildings around the country.

The most important factor in any return to physical workplaces must be the health and safety of workers. Throughout the pandemic, it has been abundantly obvious that this does not concern the Tories.

The government has consistently been forced to U-turn on everything from A-Level results to evictions and will most likely continue to buckle under pressure. The planned campaign to encourage us to return to work must therefore be partnered with a serious offensive from trade unions and workers; no return to work until it is absolutely safe.

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