We have received a lot of feedback this week from union members who work in the branch network. You are telling us that you are physically and emotionally exhausted and that anxiety levels are at the highest they have been during the whole pandemic. There is a clear call for more action to be taken and to reduce some of the risks you are facing daily – two issues that have been raised repeatedly are a reduction in opening hours and some action to limit the range of transactions available to customers.
As the week has progressed, some of your feedback has suggested that transaction volumes have fallen, making the situation calmer in some locations. However, the underlying sentiment that we are hearing is that branch teams feel more vulnerable now than they did during the first lockdown.
Looking at what is happening across the country, nobody could suggest that these fears and concerns aren’t valid – daily cases of Covid are at record levels and new deaths have exceeded 1,000 for the last two days; a Covid emergency has been declared in London today.
If you feel genuinely scared about attending work, you should have a frank conversation with your manager to see what can be done to resolve your concerns. It may be appropriate for you to agree a period of paid Domestic Leave. This is the relevant extract from Nationwide’s FAQs:
1.18 My team member feels unsafe about being in work, what options are available?
In the first instance, please discuss the recent support and measures we have taken.
This includes the increased availability of hand sanitiser and disposable gloves; the provision of protective screens in branches, reusable face coverings and visors for member facing roles; revised opening hours; and increased social distancing measures in admin buildings.
It’s important that we understand exactly what is driving the person to continue to feel unsafe and that they participate fully in these discussions. Please explore what you can do together to change this situation., e.g. enable remote working, temporary change to working patterns etc.
However, if they continue to feel unsafe and you have exhausted all opportunities to resolve this, you will need to record the absence on Peoplesoft as “Domestic Leave” in My Team’s Details up to 4 weeks. This is paid leave not sickness absence. It’s important that contact is maintained during this period to check what more can be done to resolve the issues.
Source: Coronavirus Q&A’s for All Nationwide employees for intranet – 05/01/2021
The Union is engaged in discussions with Nationwide about what further measures can be taken, including a reduction to opening hours and closing on Saturdays. Some banks and building societies have already taken these steps. We are confident that such additional measures are being actively considered but we have urged Nationwide to act now and are disappointed that decisions have been deferred into next week.
In Mandy’s message this afternoon, she is clear that branches have autonomy to close temporarily if branch teams feel this is the safest thing to do. We believe this is a genuine commitment, but we are unclear how this will operate in practice and suspect Member Representatives won’t feel this empowerment extends to them. If you have concerns about the safety of your branch, please raise them with your local management and call us if you remain worried.
We are pleased to see the Society is taking steps to ask Nationwide members to only visit branches for essential transactions. This is important to help limit the number coming into branches and to support the national requirement for people to stay at home.
There are some implications in trying to enforce an essential transaction policy. During the first lockdown, this led to an increase in verbal and aggressive behaviour and the need to actively manage queues outside the branch.
On balance we feel the best approach is for the Society to continue to influence customer behaviour and for branches to have discretion to make local decisions. There will be times when it is quicker to complete a transaction than explain to a customer why it cannot be done – and so avoid unhelpful conflict.
Public Transport and Taxis
We are also pleased to see confirmation that anyone who feels unsafe using public transport can use a taxi and claim the money back on expenses.
Covid-Secure Measures and Risk Assessments
The current risk assessments and branch playbooks comply with current government guidance but they are being reviewed to ensure they remain appropriate given the increased rate of transmission associated with the variant strain of Covid.
We are concerned about some comments from members that suggest that some branches are unable to comply with Covid-secure arrangements. If this is the case, we urge members to raise concerns – to their manager; the Union; or via whistleblowing.
We have re-instigated our branch survey as a way for members to share feedback with us. Your views are important and help us in our discussions with Nationwide. You can complete the survey here
This is a worrying time for all of us, but we know it is so much more difficult for you who do not have the option to work from home. You are key workers, but do not always get the public recognition you deserve.
Thank you for your amazing efforts that are keeping the frontline services open.