Victoria delays return to office for public servants, NSW holds firm

By Matthew Elmas

Wednesday January 6, 2021

Acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan (AAP Image/James Ross).

A new year’s office return for Victoria’s public service has been delayed as a new cluster of coronavirus cases creates ongoing uncertainty for plans return white collar workers to Melbourne’s skyscrapers.

The Victorian government hoped to green light an office return for up to 25% of staff next Monday, but acting Premier Jacinta Allan said this would be put on hold for another week, allowing public health officials to review the entire schedule.

Victoria recorded one new locally acquired case of COVID-19 on Wednesday and is navigating 41 active cases after an outbreak in NSW spread south over the holidays.

Officials in NSW—where four new cases were recorded on Wednesday—have decided to retain prior advice encouraging public servants back to the office under existing COVIDSafe plans.

“Yesterday we asked the public health team to review Victoria’s return to work schedule in Melbourne’s CBD given the current outbreak,” Allan told reporters on Wednesday.

“… They’ll provide further advice and information next week on what may be able to take place the week after.”

While many Victorian public servants have continued to attend workplaces throughout the pandemic, thousands of others were asked to work remotely where possible early last year, particularly in policy, payroll and other white collar roles.

Under the previous schedule, a quarter of staff would have been allowed to return from January 11, increasing to 50% from February 8.

The revised plan sets a tentative date for the return schedule to resume on January 18, although this could obviously change based on the outcome of the public health review.

A planned easing of office restrictions for companies has also been delayed alongside the public service pause, as officials also review settings for the broader workforce.

A spokesperson for the Victorian branch the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) welcomed the pubic health review.

“Our return to the office planning has always been guided by discussions about the science, the public health environment, and the safety risks to employees,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“As the situation has changed within NSW which is now affecting Victorians, we welcome a further review of those risks by the State as our Employer.”

In neighboring NSW, public servants have been returning to the office on a department-by-department basis since October last year, but more recently the state has experienced a set of new outbreaks, with more than 230 active cases currently.

Despite the outbreaks, a NSW government spokesperson said its existing flexible working arrangements will continue.

“The NSW Government’s long-standing flexible working arrangements will continue and include COVID-safe return to office measures, such as staggering office hours and remote working, where practicable,” the spokesperson said.

“As standard practice, individual employees will continue discussions about their flexible working arrangements with their manager.”

Read more: The briefing: who holds responsibility for the hotel quarantine program?

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