Federal agencies plan transition back to offices as union urges caution

By Jackson Graham

February 22, 2022

Ben Morton
Ben Morton has welcomed the easing of restrictions in Canberra. (The Mandarin)

Federal employers are preparing plans to safely get many staff back in their normal workplaces, with at least one department giving staff a week’s notice before the transition. 

It comes as the public sector’s main union urges for a “carefully mapped out” plan in departments and agencies involving a “staged and sensible return to offices”. 

The Australian Public Service Commission and federal public service minister Ben Morton have welcomed the easing of restrictions in Canberra. Advice from a circular says employers “should seek to return employees to their usual place to work, as soon as it is safe to do so”. 

However, decisions about public servants working from offices remain up to individual agencies. 

A spokesperson at the Department of Social Services anticipated that default working arrangements would change to “work from the office” in some states and territories over coming weeks. 

“The department will manage the transition back to office-based work by providing at least one week’s notice where staff will be able to undertake tailored working arrangements during the week of transition,” the department’s spokesperson said. 

“After the transition back to the default ‘work from the office’ the department will apply its standard flexible working arrangements policy which provides a suite of flexible options for staff.” 

At the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, a spokesperson said plans for staff to return were underway but flexible work would remain an option for some staff. 

“Staff may seek flexible arrangements with their manager, consistent with the approach prior to COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. 

“PM&C does not have a requirement for minimum days in the office, arrangements are agreed locally in line with operational requirements.” 

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly urged agencies to consult with employees, unions and health and safety representatives in returning staff to offices. 

“This is the best way to ensure that Australia avoids further waves of infections,” Donnelly said. 

“It is important to revisit all covid safety plans given new variants and recent outbreak. And it’s vital that agencies look at emerging issues around ventilation, testing and maintaining supports for vulnerable people.” 

The union helped coordinate a survey last year that found about 75% of public servants wanted a mix of home and office-based work. 

It also found nearly half of public servants would consider leaving their agency or working in a different sector if their employer does not offer hybrid work and many were battling fatigue during the pandemic. 

“Working from home is becoming a standard employment condition,” Donnelly said. 

“The CPSU has presented a model hybrid working policy to agencies and departments and scored agencies and departments on the take up of flexible work options. The union will continue with this work once office restrictions are eased.”


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