The Australian Public Service Commissioner has directed department and agency heads to allow staff to work from home where possible, and to move them into roles where they can deliver critical services.
It comes days after a spokesperson from the Australian Public Service Commission told The Mandarin there was “no general direction for APS staff to work from home”, despite concerns that employees were at risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
APS commissioner Peter Woolcott on Sunday gave that general direction, stating that “wherever practicable, public servants should work from home, subject to the decisions of agency heads”.
In announcing updated guidance on working from home arrangements for the APS, Woolcott said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had signed a determination asking agency heads to move staff between agencies to where they are most needed.
The movements will be managed by the newly established APS Workforce Management Taskforce. The guidance states that agencies must “identify employees available for temporary mobility opportunities” to the taskforce, noting that employees must be prepared to do whatever is required and “are not to be stood down”.
The taskforce is currently in the early stages of identifying the critical gaps in capacity across the APS, according to Woolcott.
“In the short term, the key priority is to increase capacity in areas that are critical to the delivery of government services,” he said.
He argued that under the current circumstances, working from home “is a priority, wherever this is practicable”.
“The decision of whether employees work in their usual office environment, a different office environment, or from home, is a matter for the head of each APS agency,” he added.
The commissioner noted that if working from home isn’t possible, agencies must ensure those working in offices are following social distancing principles, and the latest health and hygiene advice from the Department of Health. He said the APSC’s focus was on employees’ health and wellbeing, and the continued delivery of critical public services.