Many public servants return to jobs working from home

By Jackson Graham

Friday January 7, 2022

an Australian Tax Office overhead street sign
The ATO is consulting with staff over its dugs and alcohol policy. (AAP Image/April Fonti)

As public servants return to their jobs for 2022 many are doing so from home, with a number of federal departments and agencies following state and territory advice for staff not to work from offices. 

Escalating Omicron cases have led state governments including the ACT, Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia to encourage people to work from home if possible. 

But as with previous work from home transitions, there is no consistent rule for APS employees, with the Australian Public Service Commission advising that agency heads are responsible for operations and maintaining service delivery. 

“Agency responses may differ due to the geographically dispersed operating environment, nature of work and individual business continuity plans,” an APSC spokeswoman told The Mandarin. 

With rising numbers of public servants expected to be affected or become infected with the new variant, the APSC is also due to collect information on positive cases within agencies from next month. 

“Agencies are closely monitoring the number of APS employees who have tested positive for COVID-19,” the commission’s spokeswoman said. 

Three of the biggest federal employers approached by The Mandarin had different plans for employees returning to their jobs for the new year. 

The Department of Home Affairs on Thursday advised all staff in states and territories where working from home is recommended to do so where practicable. 

The arrangements will apply until January 31 and could extend longer once reviewed at a later date, a spokesperson said. 

“Staff may attend the workplace to collect equipment they require to effectively work from home,” they said. “Staff in critical roles who are unable to perform their duties from home will continue to work from work.” 

An Australian Taxation Office spokeswoman said all staff except Perth employees had been advised to work from home from January 3, with some exemptions for roles that must be performed on-site. 

“We have immediately and consistently followed the most up-to-date advice and guidance from state and territory governments, the Department of Health and the Australian Public Service Commission,” she said. 

The recommendation will be in place until January 28. 

Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said the agency was taking a “risk-based approach” to work arrangements while staff continued to support the community. 

“Our staff are able to work from home where it is reasonably practicable to do so, while others continue to work safely from offices to maintain our national network,” Jongen said. 

He said staff were advised to stay home if they did not feel well and follow state and territory health orders. 

Spaced desks, mask wearing, daily cleaning regimes, hand sanitiser and limits on the number of staff in areas such as kitchens or in a service centre at one time apply for the agency. 

“Our team leaders continue to closely monitor the health and wellbeing of our staff,” Jongen said. 

The APSC also said that agency heads were responsible for decisions on the use of Rapid Antigen Tests in workplaces, subject to state and territory advice. 

“The APSC is not using rapid antigen testing in its own workplaces,” the commission’s spokeswoman said.

“The APSC has put in place arrangements for its own staff to work from home throughout January where this is agreeable between an employee and their manager and has shared this information with other APS agencies.”

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