The union representing Services Australia employees has accused the agency of forcing staff in non-customer-facing roles to attend their offices during COVID-19 lockdowns across the country.
But Services Australia has maintained that it has been following the health advice and prioritising staff wellbeing while delivering essential services.
The Community and Public Sector Union on Friday said that, during the most recent lockdowns in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Darwin, and Melbourne, Services Australia managers have required staff who have previously been able to work from home to attend the workplace.
“Workers are being forced to break lockdown orders and attend the office to perform non-customer-facing roles, work from the office when they have the capacity to work from home and being told to use their own leave when identified as a close contact,” the union said.
“The CPSU is notifying a dispute under national workplace health and safety laws to force the agency to protect the safety of its workers while continuing to provide services to the community in these dangerous circumstances and to force a national rollout of clear standards for lockdowns.”
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen told The Mandarin the agency has been following the advice of relevant state and territory authorities to ensure staff who can work remotely do so where a work-from-home direction or public health order have been put in place. The agency has also been following public health guidance on social distancing, increased cleaning, minimal face-to-face meetings, and restructured teams, he noted.
“The wellbeing of our staff and customers remains our top priority. We provide an essential service to the Australian community and will continue to do so,” Jongen said.
“Throughout the pandemic, staff have continued to work safely from the office, and we have facilitated work from home. We’ll continue to closely monitor staff welfare and adapt within the rapidly changing situation.
“Where staff members are in the high risk category, or who live with someone in this category, arrangements are made available so their work can be done from home, including call and processing work.”
The CPSU has called for Services Australia to develop clear and consistent lockdown standards for localised outbreaks that can be implemented by the agency across business lines nation-wide.
“Services Australia needs to take the safety of their staff and the community seriously. This is not our first lockdown; it is indefensible for the agency not to have a clear contingency plan for local outbreaks. It is allowing local managers to wilfully and dangerously ignore lockdown orders,” CPSU national president Alistair Waters said.
“There are dozens of sites and around 10,000 Services Australia workers in lockdown areas right now, the flow on effect of getting this wrong could be devastating, not just for the workers but their communities.
“We have sites where workers are being told to not even bother asking to work from home, in the middle of a lockdown where the health advice is to work from home. Workers get that the work they do is essential, but when they can do that work from home they should be working from home.”
Jongen said Services Australia has met regularly with the CPSU over the past 15 months.