27 October 2023

APSC talks up work from home while commissioner talks code of conduct breaches

| Chris Johnson
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Dr Gordon de Brouwer

APS Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer says there is a higher than usual number of public servants under investigation. Photo: File.

Flexible working for federal public servants is being touted as a massive sweetener for the wages and conditions package the government has offered its workforce.

While the 11.2 per cent over three years service-wide pay increase has been rejected by unions, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) is going full steam ahead on a campaign to educate employees about other benefits of the deal it hopes to make.

This week it’s all about flexible working arrangements, with an update to APS employees highlighting how the new package would benefit them.

The newsletter to staff points out that bosses can’t outright refuse work-from-home requests without a genuine reason.

“There are a number of aspects to this clause that could give you more right to request to work from home or ask for a flexible work arrangement such as a nine-day fortnight, job share or part-time work,” the notice states.

“Many questions we are getting from you are focussed on business grounds employers can refuse a request.

“Like many of the conditions in the package, the aim is to try and drive engagement between managers and employees.

“You and your manager will need to talk about any reasonable business grounds which may impact on this request.

“If there are reasonable business grounds, security or health and safety concerns, your manager will need to discuss this with you and consider alternative arrangements to try and accommodate your needs.

“Your agency can’t refuse a flexible working arrangement without genuinely trying to reach agreement with you, and considering the impact that refusal will have on you.”

READ ALSO CPSU members call for national secretary to resign from ALP national executive

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) negotiated hard to secure flexible working arrangements – including working from home – as part of the current workplace bargaining agreement.

But while that and many other conditions are agreeable to the union, the pay offer is not.

CPSU members voted 51.9 per cent in favour of accepting the entire pay and conditions offer, but the embattled union leadership facing contenders for their own executive positions, said the result was not decisive enough and rejected the offer.

Meanwhile, Australian Public Service Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer has fronted Senate estimates this week stressing that industrial action as a result of the wages impasse has delayed the bargaining process and put a strain on the entire service.

Highlighting the APS’s rough year in the wake of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme, Dr de Brouwer also noted there were a number of senior public servants being investigated for APS code of conduct breaches.

While there have been 16 current and former public servants referred from the royal commission for code of conduct reviews, there are other unrelated inquiries into senior public servants also underway.

One is the Mike Pezzullo case, in which the Home Affairs Secretary was stood aside over a close association with a Liberal Party powerbroker.

READ ALSO Fair Work Ombudsman facing industrial action after CPSU members vote yes

But there are seven more senior public servants under investigation over potential code of conduct breaches.

“…Which is well above the couple or so a year that has been the norm in recent years,” the commissioner said.

In her appearance at Senate estimates, acting Home Affairs Secretary Stephanie Foster revealed Mr Pezzullo remained on his $900,000-plus salary while stood aside and under investigation.

But she said any questions about the investigation should be directed to the APSC.

“This has been an incredibly difficult time for all of us in the organisation, a tough four weeks in the face of sustained and often distressing media reporting,” Ms Foster said.

“I pay tribute to the Home Affairs leadership team for stepping up so strongly to sustain the organisation through this period.

“Most importantly, though, I want to acknowledge and express deep appreciation for the resilience, commitment and professionalism of our 15,000-odd staff, who have pulled together in extraordinary circumstances to deliver their critical functions without missing a beat.

“They have been simply fabulous.”

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Not all public servants are in a position to take advantage of work from lol. But sure, keep flogging that dead horse.

Not a dead horse when you’ve been doing it successfully and without issue for the past couple of years

William Teach12:57 am 29 Oct 23

In some ways that makes it worse: in my branch the new EBA terms won’t change anything from existing practice, so while moving policy and practice into the contract is good (in that it stops them unilaterally making conditions worse) it doesn’t provide any immediate benefit in voting for this agreement.

OTOH, riordan seems to have been hinting to managers that they shouldn’t be more generous than they’re required to be about flexibility until the agreement gets accepted (though they’d be hard pressed to avoid breaking our existing agreement for APS grades or a bad faith bargaining challenge).

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