Federal agencies should now be able to return workers to offices after the easing of COVID restrictions in Canberra and NSW, the Australian Public Service Commission says.
From last Friday evening, the ACT government brought forward easing restrictions, allowing workers back to offices sooner.
NSW eased most remaining restrictions last week while Victoria is considering lifting working from home advice.
An APSC spokesperson says the commission welcomes the easing of restrictions, yet advice in a circular to all agencies and departments from January still stands.
“In principle, agency heads should seek to return employees to their usual place of work, as soon as it is safe to do so,” the spokesperson told The Mandarin, quoting the relevant advice from the circular.
Federal public service minister Ben Morton was upbeat about the restrictions easing and the implications for staff and workplaces.
“This is very exciting and welcome news from the ACT government,” he said.
“The density limits applied to workplaces have been an inhibitor to return to work arrangements across the Australian Public Service.”
Morton said APS agencies could return staff to their usual workplace, while flexible working arrangements would increasingly be agreed on based on productivity benefits.
“We have always looked forward to working from home arrangements as a result of COVID being a thing of the past, while at the same time responding as we need to the public health circumstances as they change,” he said.
“We will see a greater use of flexible work arrangements into the future as agreed by employers, based on discussions between employers and employees on the productivity benefits of these arrangements.”
Morton highlighted the economic benefits for small and family businesses operating near APS offices receiving additional patronage.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the APSC has no single approach to working from home for all APS staff given the diversity of workplaces.
“Agency heads remain responsible for making COVID related decisions affecting their workplaces, including working from home arrangements, while ensuring business continuity,” the commission’s spokesperson said.
ACT chief minister Andrew Barr said the majority of ACT public servants were already in their normal workplaces in health facilities and schools.
He said the remaining 10-15% of the workforce in administrative roles would return to workplaces more regularly, but decisions would be made by each directorate.
“From an ACT government perspective, that this change of advice affects hundreds of workers not thousands,” Barr said.