Public service backflips on working from home calls

 

The public service commission has backflipped on its previous refusal to let employees to work from home during the coronavirus crisis.

However, workers at a string of Federal Government departments still have not been given the go-ahead to do so, News Corp can reveal.

Public service employees were still being expected to go into the office as of today, despite the Australian Public Service Commission last night ruling that all public servants who "could" work from home, should do now so.

It followed News Corp's report that Federal Government employees who had safety concerns over COVID-19 had been flatly refused the ability to work from home, despite the Prime Minister urging Australians to "work remotely" where possible.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Australians to work from home where they can, amid COVID-19. Picture: Adam Taylor/PMO
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Australians to work from home where they can, amid COVID-19. Picture: Adam Taylor/PMO

The new policy was a backflip from the commission's statement on Friday, where it insisted there would be no changes to its WFH policy.

Commissioner Peter Woolcott said working from home was now a priority "wherever this is practicable".

"Agency heads have always had the flexibility for employees to work at home subject to operational requirements," he said in a statement.

"But current circumstances mean as soon as practicable agency heads should facilitate their staff working from home where possible." However, he said the decision would ultimately lie with the boss of each department.

Some departments have communicated the revised policy to public sector employees, including the Department of Social Services.

In an email seen by News Corp today, the department's secretary Kathryn Campbell, told staff: "(It) is my expectation that a number of you will commence working from home, with some staff continuing to work from our offices".

Community and Public Sector Union National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said: "We are glad that they have finally made a directive to protect their workforce, and our essential public services".

"It is essential that the Commission also do everything they can to ensure social distancing for those front line staff that will not be able to work entirely from home," Ms Donnelly said in a statement to News Corp.

News Corp has contacted the APSC for comment.

'RECKLESS AND SHORTSIGHTED'

Public service workers are being forced to go into the office despite pleas for Australians to work remotely during the coronavirus outbreak, in a move branded "reckless" and "shortsighted".

The Australian Public Service Commission had previously been resisting pleas to allow workers to do their jobs remotely, despite escalating calls from Prime Minister Scott Morrison for Aussies to self-isolate.

News Corp is aware of employees from Services Australia (previously known as the Department of Human Services), Defence and the National Disability Insurance Agency who are still expected to go into their offices.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pictured taking part in the virtual G20 Leaders Summit to discuss the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Adam Taylor/PMO
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pictured taking part in the virtual G20 Leaders Summit to discuss the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Adam Taylor/PMO

There have also been several instances of employees within government departments having requests to work remotely amid COVID-19 flatly refused, News Corp has been told.

The Community and Public Sector Union has described this reluctance as "shocking" given the current health crisis.

"The Prime Minister told the nation that working from home should be strongly encouraged and undertaken where possible," CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said in a statement.

"We continue to deal with APS agencies dragging their heels on implementing these arrangements.

"It is just shocking that they are ignoring this for their own workforce.

"The CPSU is calling on the Morrison Government to ensure all public sector workers who can, must be allowed and supported to work from home.

"We must flatten the curve, and this move is critical."

Last week, Mr Morrison "strongly encouraged" Australians "to work from home where you can do that" and to "stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary that you go out".

News Corp understands this issue is a topic of conversation during today's National Cabinet meeting between the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders.

In a further statement, the CPSU said the public sector should follow "the majority of the private sector including banking" in instating WFH arrangements.

"Right now, there are departments and agencies blocking working from home arrangements or unnecessarily delaying their implementation," it said.

"This is reckless and shortsighted."

The union has urged the Australian Public Service Commission to "issue a clear directive to all agencies and departments to implement these arrangements".

"Recalcitrant managers are putting our public sector workers at risk and putting at risk the public health measures governments are trying to implement," she said.

But the commission insists "every public servant who can work, should work to support our community".

"There is no APS-wide directive that employees should work from home, or from their usual workplaces," the APSC said, in a statement to News Corp.

"Whether employees work in their usual office environment, a different office environment, or from home, will be a matter for the Head of each APS agency depending on functions and operational requirements."

 

Originally published as Public service backflips on working from home calls



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