Staff being ‘forced’ to work in Colston Tower, says whistleblower

A whistleblower claims staff are being “forced” to work in a Bristol city centre office – reportedly prompting two resignations.

Care provider Newcross Healthcare has two floors of office space in Colston Tower, a 15-storey high-rise on Colston Avenue.

One admin worker, who did not wish to be named, says staff are angry about having to go into the office amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite reportedly being able to easily work from home.

She claims Newcross refused to change its stance after Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on September 22 that people should work from home “if they can” to reduce social mixing.

“Two people resigned over it last week,” she said. “It was so poorly thought out, they just said, ‘We’re off.’

“It’s not something I would associate with a reputable healthcare company, which I thought Newcross was. It’s made me want to leave as well.”

Newcross, which has 9,000 staff across the country, says it has “strictly adhered to all Government guidelines” to ensure Covid-secure working environments across all its offices.

Speaking to Bristol Live the whistleblower added:“All our work was done just as well during lockdown, when we were at home, and staff are reporting feeling unsafe in the office.

“It’s a healthcare company and they seem to be putting their profit before their staff’s health.”

The employee has concerns over the safety of the office setup. She estimates there are around 15 to 20 staff on each of Newcross’ floors, though the company says it has a maximum of 10 on each.

“In July and August, we were encouraged to work in the office again, so we started to go back in,” she added.

“Since last week, they’ve allowed marketing employees to work from home – about five people – but it seems unfair to the other departments.

“They’ve made exceptions for people with health conditions but if everyone becomes sick with coronavirus in the building, how are ill people going to provide a service?

“As our union rep has said, Colston Tower is a cesspit of germs. It’s a big building with lots of people. There are multiple tenants in there, and there are shared toilets used by different companies.”

She says several workers made complaints last week to Newcross about having to go into the office, but she is not aware of any response yet.

“After the Government changed its guidance, the directors said everything has been risk-assessed and it’s safe to go in,” she said.

“But there are no partitions between departments, no screens between people at their desks. People aren’t sitting two metres apart – it’s around one metre.

“Yes, they’ve put in hygiene stations and hand sanitiser and hand-washing posters, but the toilets are shared by all 15 floors.

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“A few people come on public transport, where there is an added risk. The directors just don’t seem to care. They sit in an ivory tower, literally.”

The whistleblower claims every part of most roles at the branch can be performed at home.

“Everyone has a purely office-based role, except a few employees who make the occasional visit to care homes or people’s homes to make sure care standards are as they should be,” she said.

“There is more risk of those people bringing an infection into a care home if they are going into the office each day as well.”

In 2018, Newcross came under fire for fining staff £50 for phoning in sick.

The whistleblower said: “Fining people for sick days isn’t the case now, but it still feels like there is an issue with a lack of care for employees. Our lives are being put at risk.”

She says trade union Unison has been “very concerned” about workers’ complaints. Unison has been approached for comment.

Newcross says it takes “very seriously” its commitment to safe working conditions for both frontline carers and office-based staff.

Its spokesman said: “We have regularly communicated with staff throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In an anonymous [nationwide] staff survey undertaken in September, 84 per cent of our staff overwhelmingly endorsed us for supporting them during this time.

“This staff survey also showed that our team felt that some roles, which are critical to delivering our service, benefit from staff interaction to be most effective.

“We have therefore adopted a sensible blended approach combining homeworking and a skeleton office staff.”

He said its Bristol office has single occupancy of two floors, with a maximum of 20 employees working in over 6,000 square feet of space.

“We have strictly adhered to all Government guidelines to ensure Covid-secure working environments in our offices across the UK, putting in place stringent cleaning regimes, rearranging workspaces to allow for ample social distancing, investing in hand sanitising stations and advising our teams of all the latest government advice through numerous communication channels,” he said.

Newcross is confident through “robust” regular risk assessments that Colston Tower’s communal areas are being properly managed.

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