Senior northern Tory Jake Berry has urged civil servants to go back to the office - joking that their “woke-ing from home” must end.
Berry, chair of the North Research Group told a fringe event at Tory party conference: “We have to end the civil service ‘woke-ing’ from home - sorry I mean working from home, but let’s be honest, it often is woke-ing.”
During the coronavirus pandemic the civil service, along with other workplaces, allowed their employees to work from home in a bid to reduce the transmission of the virus.
It was only with the final step of Boris Johnson’s roadmap in July that the working from home requirement was dropped, and workers have steadily been returning to the office since.
However, many are still choosing to work from home and last month the government opened a consultation on making flexible working the default.
The Labour party has also said it would give employees a legal right to work from home as well as the “right to switch off” from their phone or emails outside of working hours.
On Monday Downing Street defended the civil service but said it wanted to see a “steady return” to working in person.
“The position of the government remains that we want to see a steady return of the public to working in person, and that’s the expectation of the civil service, that’s what we’ve seen throughout the summer.
“It’s important again to emphasise that it was a number of civil servants who worked on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic and we will continue to abide by the guidelines so that staff return steadily and safely to work.”
Asked to comment on Berry’s comments specifically, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “It is right that a large number of civil servants have played an important role in their response to the pandemic and have been able to deliver for the public, whilst working from home.
“That said, the prime minister has said repeatedly there are significant benefits to being in work, to office-working, and those should not be discounted.
“That’s why we are encouraging all employers to start steadily bringing in their workforce as we are in this stage of the epidemic.”
This summer an unnamed cabinet minister sparked anger by suggesting that civil servants who work from home should get a pay cut.
They told the Daily Mail that those working remotely “aren’t paying their commuting costs so they have had a de facto pay rise, so that is unfair on those who are going into work”.
Following the row business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng sought to dispel rumours that civil servants were facing a pay cut, saying flexible working was “here to stay”.