Staff working for Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) have reportedly been asked to return to work next week despite the coronavirus crisis.
BBC reports staff members believe their lives are being put at risk due to demands that they go back to work.
According to the broadcaster, staff were told by a Home Office scientific adviser 80% of people would contract COVID-19 in the end and “we can’t hide away from it forever.”
The Home Office said it was maintaining social distancing at passport offices.
HMPO has centres in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport and Peterborough.
According to a transcript seen by the BBC, Myrtle Lloyd, HMPO chief operating officer, said government health guidance did not mean that staff “should stay at home instead of delivering critical services.”
“What is also critical for us as a business is to have a manageable level of work in the system, so that when we start our recovery we are not overwhelmed by our demands,” she said.
According to the Public and Commercial Services Union, up to 2,000 staff would be asked to return to work, with 500 in offices at a time.
Staff members, however, sent messages that they were concerned about returning to work.
One wrote: “Your actions are going to kill people.”
Others wondered how they would get to work without using public transport.
A Home Office spokesperson dismissed suggestions the health of staff was being put at risk.
In a statement they said: “Her Majesty’s Passport Office is fully adhering to public health advice across all of its 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.”
Passport Office staff have to handle documents and passports sent in from all over the world.
One source told the BBC their colleagues were happy for a skeleton staff to process applications needed for ID purposes, especially when the applicants were doctors or nurses.
However, they are now dealing with requests for passports before holidays over Easter, but the shutdown of most air travel meant they were no longer urgent, the source explained.
According to reports, the UK has recorded more than 60,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 7,000 deaths.