THE government have been slammed for suggesting Passport Office staff should return to work to continue their duties processing applications.

Union leaders and workers have criticised the Home Office after it last night emerged staff were being told to return to work next week.

Staff working at the Passport Office in Durham have since told The Northern Echo they have 'no confidence' in the government's ability to keep them safe from coronavirus.

A worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: "Staff are being forced to return to work as they are deemed to be key workers.

"Many are fearful and have no confidence in management's ability to ensure they remain safe whilst in the office. 

"Many workers use public transport which makes them at even greater risk.

"Shame on the government officials who stand there on a daily basis advising us to stay at home whilst forcing their own employees to work in non-essential roles.

"They are risking people's lives and it needs to be stopped."

On Thursday, the Public and Commercial Services Union said it had been pressing managers across the civil service to close offices so people can work from home.

According to the BBC, a leaked transcript of a Zoom meeting involving Passport Office (HMPO) managers on Thursday, suggested that up to 2,000 members of staff could return to work on routine passport applications.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary at the union, said: "It is absolutely scandalous that HMPO are suggesting our members can go back into work during a pandemic to process routine passports.

"The cavalier approach to our members' health and safety is shameful and ultimately puts them in greater danger of contracting Covid-19.

"We have already had members die as a result of contracting corona and pressured civil service managers in other departments to shut offices so staff can work from home.

"For the deputy chief scientific adviser at the Home Office to suggest that going into work does not put you at greater risk of contracting corona is extremely irresponsible and totally contradicts current Government guidance.

"Processing passports is not critical work while we are in lockdown and international travel is practically non-existent due to the corona pandemic."

In response, a Home Office spokesman said: "Her Majesty's Passport Office is fully adhering to public health advice across all our offices and adopting social distancing measures to keep both its staff and customers safe.

"It continues to operate at substantially restricted staffing levels with a significant number of people working from home where possible, and staff are prioritising emergency cases. Guidance is also available for people who are travelling into work.

"It was made clear in the meeting that the Government's priority is slowing the spread of coronavirus and we all have a part to play in order to protect the NHS and save lives."

The Home Office added that Government advice has been clear that people may travel for work purposes, if they cannot work from home.