Coronavirus: Johnson's call to return to work 'recipe for chaos'

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
UK prime minister Boris Johnson urged workers who cannot work from home to go back to work. (Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street via AP)

The UK government’s call for an immediate return to work for those who cannot work from home has been dubbed a “recipe for chaos.”

Union, business and opposition leaders all demanded more guidance on safety in workplaces after prime minister Boris Johnson’s message to the nation on Sunday (10 May). Critics also warned over safety and severely limited capacity on public transport for commuters.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told BBC Radio 4 the speech left millions of workers in an “uncertain position” over whether to go to work if they felt unsafe on Monday. Construction and manufacturing workers are among those most likely to be affected as growing numbers of sites reopen.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the government should be introducing “tough new rules” on safety alongside a return to work.

READ MORE: UK prime minister Boris Johnson starts to reopen UK economy

She said the message would cause many workers “confusion and anxiety,” adding: “The government still hasn’t published guidance on how workers will be kept safe.

“So how can the prime minister – with 12 hours' notice – tell people they should be going back to sites and factories? It’s a recipe for chaos.”

Johnson had said in his speech that workers should be “actively encouraged” to return to work if they were unable to work at home.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab issued a more direct appeal to such workers on BBC Breakfast on Monday.

“If you can’t work from home, then you should now go back to work, because there’s been enough time, we’ve got the virus down, the consultation and measures have been put in place in the workplace, for example, manufacturing, or the construction setting, which means it can be done in a safe way.”

But he said workers should walk, cycle or drive, only using public transport “if absolutely necessary.”

The government is expected to set out more details on the measures on Monday.