14 July 2022

Public servants face new round of working at home as agency chiefs weigh COVID response

| Ian Bushnell
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The winter wave has public service agencies on alert. Photo: Canberra Health Services.

Canberra’s Commonwealth offices may start emptying again as public service chiefs weigh the benefits of keeping their staff at home as the new wave of COVID-19 sweeps across the national capital.

As health authorities warn of a tripling of daily case numbers to 3000 in the coming weeks, the Australian Public Service Commission has issued new advice to agency bosses on how to cope with the deteriorating situation.

It is still up to individual agencies how they respond to the increasingly risky work environment, but they must update their business continuity plans to account for the emergence of new variants and fluctuations in cases, including the impact of staff absences due to illness.

READ MORE How agencies are dropping the ball on staff leave

Agency heads should take into account public health and other relevant advice, as well as the need to ensure that workplaces continue to be safe, with reference to the National COVID-19 Safe Workplaces Principles.

While the public health advice may not be binding, if it provides a best practice approach, agencies should consider adopting it but remain flexible as advice changes, given the new COVID-19 variants and rising case numbers.

For those who need not be in the office, working from home may be a suitable option, the APSC says.

“Agency heads must consider the individual circumstances of employees and the epidemiological environment,” it says.

They should put in place arrangements to support employees working from home, including regular check-in arrangements, teleconferences and other ways to maintain regular communication between staff and their managers.

If staff are unable to find care for their children, agencies should look to flexible working arrangements to allow them to continue working.

Staff can also use available leave, including paid carer’s leave.

Agencies should continually assess their workplaces to ensure they remain COVID-safe and engage with staff and unions on safe work practices and minimising transmission of the virus.

READ ALSO Hospital will survive this winter but it will come at a cost to patients and staff: Health boss

On Monday, ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said that the current COVID-19 wave – driven by the spread of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron – could peak with daily caseloads between 2000 and 3000.

She said that this wave would peak at the end of July or early August but not before putting the already strapped health system under even more strain.

The number of people in hospital is also expected to climb, peaking at around 200. Currently, there are around 140 people in ACT hospitals with the virus. Deaths are also forecast to rise.

The winter wave is being complicated by the spread of other respiratory illnesses such as RSV and influenza.

The Circular can be viewed on the APSC website.

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Your title makes it sound like working from home is a predicament not a blessing & an all around improvement in working arrangements. If you are neither for it or against it at least be neutral in your title please. WFH is not a threat to anyone, other than those that see it as a threat to the power they hold on employees.

Agency heads need to step up before it is too late.
Yes, not everyone can work from home however those who can – should. Pretty sure this has been the advice from ACT Govt for weeks now.

The same advice is also coming from Federal Gov. Still Department heads are living on the slow lane & making no decisions (perhaps they are all sick & incapacitated – oh no that is how they always operate = unable to make decisions until someone pushes their buttons really hard)

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