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.”
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.
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.