12 July 2023

Public servants win more rights to work from home

| Chris Johnson
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CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly says the union had a big win for public servants wanting to work from home. Photo: File.

Flexible working arrangements for Australian Public Service employees have been agreed on in the latest round of APS-wide bargaining negotiations and the staff have come out winners.

A bias towards approving work-from-home requests will be formalised and the flexibility will apply to all levels across the APS.

While the Australian Public Service Commission says it has listened to what staff have been requesting, the Community and Public Sector Union is claiming a win in the bargaining process.

The CPSU says it locked in significant improvements to APS workers’ access to flexible working arrangements, including working from home.

National secretary Melissa Donnelly described the achievement as groundbreaking, saying the union secured greater flexibility and working from home rights for employees.

“These significantly improved and enforceable flexible work rights will open doors for individuals who were previously unable to consider APS employment, or had to leave because of a change in circumstances,” Ms Donnelly said.

“The traditional approach to APS work has hindered the attraction and retention of staff across the service.

“Flexibility in how, when and where public sector work is done will see the APS become increasingly diverse, adaptable and accessible.

“This is good news for public servants, public services, public policy, and the public.”

READ ALSO We deserve better from the APS and those it pays for advice

Ms Donnelly commended the government for recognising the importance of flexible work, and what she described as the importance of consistent application across agencies.

“By embracing this opportunity and becoming a leader in workplace flexibility, the APSC and the government have taken meaningful steps towards establishing the APS as a model employer,” she said.

“The CPSU has been pleased to see the APSC unafraid to make bold progress and hopes they see the value in continuing to do so.

“We will be continuing to push the APSC for significantly improved pay and pay equity proposals, after initial proposals failed to meet expectations.”

For its part, the APSC said the Commonwealth had tabled its proposed position to deliver an outcome to benefit employees and the agencies employing them.

“You told us through the APS bargaining staff survey conducted in February this year, an APS-wide flexible work arrangement was a top priority,” the APSC said in a circular to staff.

Chief negotiator Peter Riordan said the position was reached following comprehensive discussions during the bargaining process.

It signalled a significant step for the APS and would create a consistent approach to flexible work arrangements for all APS employees.

“This common condition is the result of genuine negotiation, collaborating with agencies and engaging in good faith with bargaining representatives to achieve a meaningful outcome for employees and agencies,” Mr Riordan said.

The proposal is based on claims from employee representatives, the Secretaries Board’s flexible work principles, and consideration of views provided by the 103 APS agencies represented.

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The new condition recognises agencies are committed to flexible working arrangements to support attraction and retention in the APS; diversity of the APS and their location of work; caring responsibilities; and a balance between personal and working lives.

“The Commonwealth’s proposal emphasises a bias towards approving flexible working arrangements requested by an employee, while ensuring every employee can maintain their role to deliver for the Australian public,” its statement says.

“It also acknowledges some form of flexibility applies to all roles but that different types of flexible working arrangements may be suitable for different types of roles or circumstances.”

The agreement has centred on:

  • Rights for all APS employees to be able to make a request for a flexible working arrangement, including working from home;
  • No caps to be imposed on the number of days they can work from home in a week;
  • A bias towards yes – agencies required to lean towards approving requests;
  • Refusal in certain circumstances only – agencies will only be able to refuse requests after genuinely trying to reach an agreement, considering the employee’s circumstances, and only if there are clear business reasons not to approve;
  • Independent umpire oversight;
  • Roles performed in wider locations – enterprise agreements will acknowledge the benefits of flexible work to facilitate APS capability and work being performed in a wider range of locations across Australia;
  • Agencies to consider connection to country – when First Nations employees make a flexible work request, the agency will be required to consider connection to country and cultural obligations;
  • Ad hoc requests allowing employees to make ad hoc requests for one-off or short-term circumstances; and
  • Strong protections  against flexible working arrangements being terminated without genuine negotiation with employees.

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Most people would much rather deal with a person who works in a professional office.
I’ve been on phone calls with people where it is obvious that the person is working from home. The sound of their children crying in the background, dogs barking and knowing the person is likely sitting around in casual clothes (or even their pyjamas) presents as extremely unprofessional. Working from home displays a lack of integrity and makes me question the person’s work ethic, and their competence (is there something wrong with them that they don’t want to be in the office with their colleagues)…

Perhaps your opinion here is a reflection of how you would behave if you worked from home, poor work ethic, incompetent, unprofessional? For most people who WFH, they work harder, more efficiently knowing that it is a privilege and they do not want to lose it. Hence many WFH staff put in longer hours than if they were in office.

This isn’t the 1950’s where you have to wear a suit to be considered professional. If I’m on the phone, what I am wearing makes no difference, and if I’m required to make a video call I’ll pop on a shirt. I agree that having background noise isn’t the best if your job is making phone calls, and having a proper set-up should be taken into consideration (I see too many people working off just their laptop on a kitchen/dining room table). As for not wanting to be in an office with colleagues, I don’t get why that is an issue. Some people prefer to be able to get on with their work, rather than engage in small talk and be distracted by the 400 people sitting around them chatting about their weekend or a new brownie recipe they tried. I have no interest in what my work colleagues are doing outside of what is required for me to do my job, and I have no interest in picking up any of the diseases that they bring into the office.

I achieve much more work when WFH than in office. I would on some days, say 2-3 hours of my office day are spent talking to people who come to my desk for a series of 5 minutes quick chats.

For me working from home is soulless, boring, unsocial and terribly uncollaborative.

wodenresident5:20 pm 13 Jul 23

Tell me about how your a massive fan of traffic and how you love spending money on fuel.

That’s understandable, and depending of the sort of work you do perfectly fine. However, some of us can do 99% of our jobs from home, can collaborate via online services, socialise outside of work, and in fact get more work done at home where there are no distractions. There’s also the monetary bonus (no parking/fuel costs), and huge environmental benefits to not traveling to/form work, not to mention the stress reduction.

For me working in an open plan office, where they use “hot desking” so you spend so much time actually looking for people, trying to find a space where you can have a private conversation, setting up and packing up you space every single day is soulless, unproductive, collaborative and unsocial.
Working from home is more productive and can be more collaborative because you can have the discussions you need with the people you need to have them with without wasting time. I have everything I need at my fingertips (locked cabinet under the desk) and the desk is set up – ergonomically – already.
Having spoken to many of the people I work with they’d spend more time in the office if they got rid of hot desking.

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