Federal public servants returning to offices soon, with union to push for increased flexible work processes

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday May 28, 2020

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Agency heads across the Australian Public Service are finalising their plans to transition staff back to their offices, but some workers won’t be returning to their original agencies until the heightened demand for government services dies down.

The APS has surged more than 2200 staff as part of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Australian Public Service Commission. An APSC spokesperson told The Mandarin that some of the redeployed staff, who have been busy delivering critical services, will continue to work outside of their usual workplaces for the time being.

“The workforce requirements associated with critical functions are subject to constant monitoring and review, and the APS adjusts the numbers of staff redeployed accordingly. The timing of staff returning from a surge placement to their home agency will vary depending on the individual’s personal requirements, the role they are filling and the requirements of the home and host agencies,” they said.

“Some staff have already begun returning to their home agencies, while others will continue to be redeployed in support of critical functions for a longer period.”

The spokesperson said agencies are currently finalising plans to transition staff back to their usual workplaces, and are taking into account the state and territory governments’ varying approaches to easing restrictions.

Earlier this month the APSC published advice for those agency heads who have been creating transition plans.


READ MORE: Working from home – has it worked?


Hopes to utilise flexible work benefits in the future

The national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Melissa Donnelly, told The Mandarin the CPSU would push for flexible working options to be utilised across the APS after the pandemic has concluded.

“Before the new normal of COVID-19, we saw employers drag their heels on flexibility for employees including working from home. But through this pandemic we have seen the public and private sector extensively move to remote work, and we hope that this will show working from home can be done in the public sector,” she said.

“It’s clear that working from home can offer some real benefits for employees and employers. And there are real productivity benefits, including greater gender equity in the workplace and increased labour force participation for women. It reduces commuting time and allows employees to better manage both work and home responsibilities.

“That’s why the CPSU will be seeking to work with the departments and agencies on new, agreed processes to facilitate flexibilities such as working from home. The pandemic has shown that working from home is possible, and we want to work with agencies to get this right. These new processes will need to ensure supervisors support and engage employees, there is greater use of video conferencing, employees are provided with the right technology, employees’ workplace health and safety is protected, and employees’ workloads are managed appropriately.”

APS commissioner Peter Woolcott recently told ABC News the pandemic has changed the way the APS works for the better.

“What’s happening in terms of the way we work across the system — in terms of our mobility, in terms of our collaboration, in terms of our innovation — these are all things we want to lock in,” he said.

“The public service is going to come out of this very differently from when it went into this crisis.”

It’s not just public service employees who have felt the benefits of having to work differently. Survey results released on Tuesday found four-in-five people feel more positive about their work/life balance after working from home, and two in three Australians expect to work from home more often in the future. Another recent survey found South Australians want to try balancing remote and office work in the future, with respondents indicating the desire to work remotely for an average of 58% of their week — roughly 23 hours in a 40 hour work week.


READ MORE: APS staff working from offices while rest of Australia stays home


 

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