Coronavirus: Nicola Sturgeon warns against ‘intimidating’ people back to work

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Media captionStaff ‘shouldn’t be intimidated back to the office’

Scotland’s first minister has said she does not want to see people being “intimidated” into returning to workplaces before it is safe to do.

Nicola Sturgeon said her government had been holding talks with business leaders about the possibility of a phased return to office working.

But she said it was still too soon for everyone to return to normal without the virus spreading.

She said no one should face the threat of redundancy for working from home.

Ms Sturgeon was speaking after the UK government announced that a campaign encouraging people to go back to their workplaces in England will start next week.

The campaign will see employers asked to reassure staff that it is safe to return by highlighting measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

  • Campaign to encourage workers back to offices
  • What does my boss have to do to keep me safe?

However, Whitehall sources have insisted that the campaign will not suggest those who continue to work from home are at any greater risk of losing their jobs.

And the UK government’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, stressed that people should only return to work if it was safe to do so, and said he believed there would be more flexible working in the future.

Business leaders have warned that city centres have been damaged by people staying away from offices.

But research carried out by academics in Cardiff and Southampton has suggested that about 90% of people who have worked from home during the lockdown want to continue doing so.

Ms Sturgeon said a return to office working in Scotland would be a decision for the Scottish government to take as part of its route map out of lockdown.

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A UK government campaign will encourage people in England to return to office working

She stressed that she wanted things to return to normal as quickly as possible – but said there was also potentially an “opportunity” for people to continue working flexibly to improve their work-life balance.

The first minister said the economy secretary had been holding talks with the Chambers of Commerce this week about the possibility of a phased return to offices while “supporting workers working from home”.

But she stressed that this had to be done alongside ensuring that the virus continues to be suppressed, and that everything returning to normal would currently create “too high a risk of the virus spreading very quickly”.

She added: “That would compromise our route out of lockdown, and perhaps take us backwards, and it would also significantly compromise the ability to keep schools safely open”.

‘Redundant or sacked’

Ms Sturgeon went on to warn: “I will not countenance in Scotland any kind of narrative around this that is seeking to almost intimidate people back to work before, as a country, we have taken the decision that it is safe.

“People should not be told that if you don’t get back to work in an office right now, if you’re still working from home, you may be at greater risk of being made redundant or sacked.

“I don’t think that is the kind of approach that we want to take here.”

Ms Sturgeon also confirmed a £59m package of support for the culture and heritage sectors, which comes from the £97m given to the Scottish government through the Barnett formula.

Theatres, galleries, comedy clubs, music venues and nightclubs are among the groups eligible for the new fund, with information on how to apply to be released next week.

The announcement follows claims that the Scottish government has unfairly championed “elite” cultural organisations at the expense of nightclubs, pubs and grassroots music venues.

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