Australian Public Service Commission updates remote working guidance amid COVID case spike

By on 20/07/2022 | Updated on 20/07/2022
Australia recorded 53,850 COVID-19 cases and 90 deaths on 20 July. The spike has been attributed to new Omicrom sub-variants. Photo of people wearing masks near Lake Wendouree, Ballarat, Australia by Ed Dunens via Flickr

Federal agencies in Australia have been given greater flexibility to allow public servants to work from home in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases across the country.

The Australian Public Service Commission issued a new circular last week in which earlier advice to call public servants back to the office “as soon as it is safe to do so” was omitted.

The move comes after the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommended that the country’s employers consider allowing staff to work from home in a bid to curb the latest spike in COVID cases and deaths, which reached 53,850 and 90 respectively on 20 July alone. Recent surveys have suggested coronavirus infections among APS staff have exceeded 3,000 a fortnight.

“For operational reasons, some employees will be required to physically attend their usual workplace. For others, flexibility, including working from home arrangements, may be a suitable option,” the circular said.

Read more: Getting the balance right: public and civil service leaders on flexible working – during the pandemic and beyond

Agencies are responsible for setting their own working arrangements and updating them based on government and health authority advice. The circular said agency leaders must ensure the delivery of services to the public whilst keeping their staff safe.

“Given the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, and fluctuations in cases, agencies should remain flexible in responding and adapting to changes in such advice,” it said, adding that agencies must update their business continuity plans and risk management contingencies, “including the impact of staff absences due to illness”.

Supporting those who are working from home

The circular said agencies should support employees who are working from home by arranging regular check-ins and teleconferences, and that in cases where flexible working arrangements cannot be accommodated, “agencies should consider whether the employee can temporarily undertake a different (more flexible) role, either within their agency or in a different agency”.

Read more: Expanding the talent pool: how hybrid work can make public sector jobs a better fit for everyone

It also stated that “agencies should facilitate flexible working arrangements to allow employees to continue working” in cases where they are unable to access supervision for their children.

Public service minister Katy Gallagher said agencies should be prepared to meet the workforce challenges posed by a predicted increase in case numbers.

“We have seen throughout the pandemic that public servants, like many Australians, have successfully worked remotely,” she told the Canberra Times. “Agencies will make decisions about how to manage their own workforces while taking into account health advice and service delivery requirements.”

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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