TRADE unions have warned against home working becoming the ‘‘new normal’’ as the re-opening of offices was delayed because of rising Covid cases in the wider community.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that the reopening of call centres and offices where staff are still working from home would “definitely not take place” before October 1, when this will next be reviewed.

And while the STUC recognises that now may not be the time to move to the next phase and the reopening of offices because of the public health risk, they are concerned that their workers are being left vulnerable to the demands of opportunistic employers.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Sturgeon said: “For now working from home will remain the default position.”

But STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham worries that workers’ rights may be eroded if that extends to a considerably longer period of remote working.

He said: “Employers should now be looking at any risk assessments that they have been taking and any consultations they have undertaken with staff where they might have been foreseeing a two or three months working from home period which might have now been stretched to six months.

“It now looks as though it might stretch some considerable months into the future.

“We don’t want working from home to become ‘the new normal’ for the future. I hear examples increasingly of companies informing their workers that this is now their default way of working, that basically the office is gone.”

Moxham is worried that workers are already being asked to do more than they would in the office.

“It makes assumptions about what workers are able to do from home which just isn’t possible.

“Our understanding from talking to our members is that people are working considerably longer than their contracted hours on average while they’ve been working from home.

“There begins to be an expectation from employees, not all but some, that you’ll be on call at any time.”

And he also worries about a working world where companies increasingly opt to downsize and turn to more freelance workers in place of contracted staff.

He said: “We think that wholesale moving to homeworking may well encourage employers to seek the use of consultants, contractors, bogus self-employment, a range of things which deny the normal employment rights.

“There is a very real risk that can grow if the traditional office environment is jettisoned.”

Moxham is hoping that consultation between employers and employees can avert this and there can be a phased return to the office.

He added: “At some stage there will be a return.

“We want to see volunteerism to be a key in that.

“Employers should be engaging with their work force and identifying who is most comfortable, most keen and most able to go back to the workplace and those who are more comfortable spending more time working from home.

“And that will allow a phased return and will not be a complete rush back to the office.

“We don’t want everybody jumping on the bus on Monday and all going back to work at the same time.”

The STUC has kept up a steady call too for the UK Government to extend its furlough scheme to protect workers’ jobs and they believe that that situation is now becoming critical.

Moxham added: “We really hope the Chancellor will see sense on this. It can be on a sectional basis, it could even be on a workplace-by-workplace basis.

“And if it’s not I fear we’ll see a hell of a lot of redundancies by the end of October.”