Union calls for APS-wide RATs, more consistent approach to Omicron

Ian Bushnell 13 January 2022 129

CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly: absence of clear and comprehensive advice from government. Photo: File.

The Commonwealth public servants union has called on the Federal Government to make rapid antigen tests (RATs) freely available to staff amid concerns that an inconsistent response to the Omicron wave is hampering efforts to minimise illness and staff shortages.

CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly has written to Public Service Minister Ben Morton urging the government to ease working-from-home arrangements.

Ms Donnelly says that while many APS agencies are now doing this, the absence of clear and comprehensive advice on this issue from government is making this harder than it should be and leading to inconsistent approaches across the APS.

Late last year, Mr Morton said it was time for public servants to return to their offices, despite the pandemic not being over, evidence of the benefits of working from home, and that it was now a firm part of how agencies manage and recruit their workforces in a competitive jobs market.

Big departments and agencies such as Home Affairs and the Australian Taxation Office moved quickly to allow staff to work from home, but Services Australia only this week made the change after union lobbying.

“As a result of our advocacy, many APS agencies have put on hold plans to return to workplaces and reinstituted widespread working from home rights in affected locations,” Ms Donnelly told Region Media.

“There are some differences between agencies, roles and locations, and we’re working to ensure that working from home is made available as widely as possible. This will keep the community safe and limit the spread.”

Ms Donnelly urged Mr Morton to make RATs free and accessible for all, particularly frontline workers, and there should be sector-wide guidance on their use to ensure a consistent approach across the APS.

The CPSU believes agencies should provide RATs where they are required for work purposes or due to workplace exposure, and that a positive RAT result should be accepted as evidence for any leave that needs to be taken due to COVID. Moreover, they said staff should be able to take paid leave to get a COVID test and while awaiting results.

The union has also called on the government to provide paid leave for labour-hire workers if they contract COVID-19.

Ms Donnelly said employers needed to review their COVID protocols to ensure that staff are kept safe considering higher case numbers, changes to isolation and testing requirements, and new definitions of close contacts, which all increase the risk of workplace transmission.

She said current government arrangements for COVID-19 needed to be updated to take into account the new variant.

“Given the significant changes in the risks posed by the Omicron variant, current government guidelines, current COVID-19 protocols, response plans, and return to work plans must all be reviewed by agencies to ensure they remain up to date and relevant to the elevated risks and current circumstances,” Ms Donnelly said.

READ MORE: New flexible working guidelines in mix as APS faces competing pressures

The Australian Public Service Commission said working-from-home arrangements were in the hands of individual agencies as per last September’s Circular, but it was in the process of being updated and would soon be republished.

“Working flexibly, including working from home, has always been available to APS employees where agreeable between an employee and their manager,” the APSC said.

“Individual agency heads remain responsible for making working from home decisions in their agencies consistent with public health advice.”

The APSC’s survey on working from home is on hold but will resume next month, collecting data for the fortnight of 31 January to 11 February.

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129 Responses to Union calls for APS-wide RATs, more consistent approach to Omicron
Brooke Gorst Brooke Gorst 9:38 pm 16 Jan 22

Would be nice to have them in shared accommodation like refuges. Shame

Zil Sirgolak Zil Sirgolak 12:54 pm 15 Jan 22

I agree...I have to work from the office as I cannot do my job from home and if I get symptoms and need to get a PRC I could lose a weeks wage as I am a contractor. More needs to be done. Its unacceptable.

Heather Lance Heather Lance 6:29 pm 14 Jan 22

Everyone should have access to RATs when they need them. The current situation is a schemozzle

Ben Jones Ben Jones 5:47 pm 14 Jan 22

What a waste of tests … give them to those who need it first.

Samia Goudie Samia Goudie 3:53 pm 14 Jan 22

There’s this idea said over and over that “ think of the vulnerable and we are taking care of the vulnerable “ but that’s just not true if anything we are totally abandoned esp

If u rely on carers

And also need to see a dr or get other help. It’s not just me I’m saying that for but for the many I know In way worse or in rural situations…. Yes workers need them…. But WE all do. I know it looks like there’s resources but there isn’t . It’s kind just so your best and good luck .

Ie ) if your sick and in a Vulnerable group I are meant to get a RAT bug u can’t cause -a) there is none b) your too sick or disabled to get one c) you can’t afford one d) your carers are all sick

You can’t call


In the home ( set up for vulnerable people ) unless u have a RAT then get a PCR then you can call and get accessed , but you can’t do that as u can’t get the RAT

Do you just get sick and no one can help you .

If u can get a RAT and it’s positive abc ur well enough u can call then get told to go get the PCR but your carers are sick so how do u get there

Then if you do

And it’s positive and your still well enough to call u wait a few days they call you …. But your too sick to talk …


You see what I mean ? Yep . Good luck .

Samia Goudie Samia Goudie 3:44 pm 14 Jan 22

Everyone should be ! Not just public servants . What about the vulnerable like me disabled care support workers sick alone no RAT what the heck am I meant to do ? There’s heaps like me

I know already of a person in NSW disabled who got so sick no family no RAT couldn’t get help I just found out she took her life ! And no I’m

Not making it up . How do I know . Because she had posted and I tried to contact and then messaged and then got a message they had ,

This is the second suicide since Xmas of a vulnerable person already sick who felt so over it all and alone and unable to get support that they just gave up .

Ella Factor Ella Factor 1:46 pm 14 Jan 22

There seems to be many comments from people who assume that all public servants are desk based workers who can work from home

This is not the case

Many thousands of APS workers are designated essential workers who cannot work from home.

Many have a lot of interaction with the public.

For example Centrelink workers. Bio security workers. Border Force workers. Aboriginal Hostel workers, and so on.

I agree with all the comments saying all frontline essential workers should have RATs provided - I don’t agree with those comments that exclude APS employees from this need, just because they are APS!

    Sharon Harnett Sharon Harnett 2:15 pm 14 Jan 22

    Ella Factor As you note many essential workers are public servants 🤷‍♀️

Yvonne Douglass Yvonne Douglass 1:26 pm 14 Jan 22

Super market workers? Truck drivers?

Sarah Grainger Sarah Grainger 12:43 pm 14 Jan 22

Geez what a croc. At least Ian Bushnell is having a break from his usual teacher bashing 🙄

Ben Medway Ben Medway 12:18 pm 14 Jan 22

Good ol rusty rifles. They don’t work and you can’t fire them 👍

    Shane Collins Shane Collins 12:23 pm 14 Jan 22

    Ben Medway I’m definitely going to use that saying 😂

    Ben Medway Ben Medway 12:26 pm 14 Jan 22

    Shane Collins haha sums it up pretty well 👍

Anne Athema Anne Athema 12:06 pm 14 Jan 22

If you’re forcing people to work from the office then this seems like a good idea. Since most of us are back working from home though it’s probably a waste of (non existent) RATs at the moment.

Carey Russell Carey Russell 12:02 pm 14 Jan 22

People working in essential services should get them free before office public servants,

    Trish Lingard-Wyss Trish Lingard-Wyss 1:39 pm 14 Jan 22

    Carey Russell especially ones who can and have been told to work from home.

    Sharon Harnett Sharon Harnett 2:14 pm 14 Jan 22

    Carey Russell Most people in essential services are public servants.

    Carey Russell Carey Russell 2:34 pm 14 Jan 22

    Sharon Harnett no they are not,

    Shop keepers, bus drivers, security guards

    Postie, delivery drivers most importantly pathology and nurses GP , receptionist


    Sharon Harnett Sharon Harnett 2:57 pm 14 Jan 22

    Carey Russell Nurses, doctors, police, fire services, army, navy, Air Force, medics, teachers 🤷‍♀️

    Andrew Kent Andrew Kent 3:28 pm 14 Jan 22

    Carey Russell let’s just shut down government services and see what happens?

    Liz Hampton Liz Hampton 4:14 pm 14 Jan 22

    Andrew Kent how about everyone that works in private enterprise strikes and see what happens??

    Carey Russell Carey Russell 4:43 pm 14 Jan 22

    Sharon Harnett Not all public servants,

    Doug Hovi Doug Hovi 7:45 pm 14 Jan 22

    Shutdown the government! Let the reign of warlords begin and common sense prevail 🤣😂😭 *satire*

    Andrew Kent Andrew Kent 8:16 pm 14 Jan 22

    Liz Hampton how about private enterprise manage their workforce like the public sector does? I didn’t suggest the public should be supported over private like you’re implying.

    Onelia Herriot Onelia Herriot 8:40 pm 14 Jan 22

    Andrew Kent no pensions or benefits including the pandemic payments?

    Car La Car La 5:45 am 15 Jan 22

    Andrew Kent who do you think is responsible for ensuing essential workers doing their job and get paid? Just out of interest....

    Damian Holloway Damian Holloway 8:09 am 15 Jan 22

    Sharon Harnett police, fire, army, navy, Air Force are all either federal or state public service

    Liz Hampton Liz Hampton 9:04 am 15 Jan 22

    Andrew Kent no, you were implying that if the public servants were to not work, that it would stop the country from running. Hardly. Yes it would affect some people, but the rest of the country would be fine.

    Andrew Kent Andrew Kent 10:18 am 15 Jan 22

    Liz Hampton wow that’s a really ignorant comment. Do you understand how governments work?

Kytie Mclign Kytie Mclign 11:34 am 14 Jan 22

Many of the commenters here could afford to join a union applicable to their own industry sector. Union members understand that one sector's union can't actually speak up for workers in other industry sectors.

Simon Ollenbach Simon Ollenbach 11:24 am 14 Jan 22

So tempted to comment but as my Grandma taught me. If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything.

    Adam Meadows Adam Meadows 1:10 pm 15 Jan 22

    Simon, saying that you aren't saying anything is saying something. 🙂

Rosie Maclaine Rosie Maclaine 11:02 am 14 Jan 22

Well why are public servants any more important than the rest of society

    Kytie Mclign Kytie Mclign 11:46 am 14 Jan 22

    Rosie Maclaine No one said they were?

    Vicky  Scipione Vicky Scipione 12:20 pm 14 Jan 22

    Rosie Maclaine Because we need the nurses, doctors, paramedics to keep us alive and health when we get sick.

    Greg Miller Greg Miller 12:28 pm 14 Jan 22

    Rosie Maclaine the public service union is arguing on behalf of its members. In the meantime, the ACTU is arguing that RATs should be free for everyone. CPSU is one of the unions in the ACTU, and CPSU is arguing for a sub-set of the ACTU claim. It sometimes happens that a win for one workforce can be used to more strongly argue for everyone else effected

    Rosie Maclaine Rosie Maclaine 1:54 pm 14 Jan 22

    Greg Miller thank you

    Dave Kirwan Dave Kirwan 6:46 pm 14 Jan 22

    Rosie Maclaine they're not. But they have a union and are able to stick up for themselves. Sometimes.

    Greg Miller Greg Miller 6:47 pm 14 Jan 22

    Rosie Maclaine no worries - context often helps!

    Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 7:21 am 15 Jan 22

    Rosie Maclaine glad you dont need ANY service of the PS. What, do you you live the life of a hermit?

Damien Lucas Damien Lucas 10:58 am 14 Jan 22

Cue the comments from all the people who hate public servants...

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 11:05 am 14 Jan 22

    Damien Lucas like teachers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, ……all public servants

    Hannah Zurcher Hannah Zurcher 11:31 am 14 Jan 22

    And the comments from people who don't understand that this is exactly the support that a strong union gives their members.

    Kytie Mclign Kytie Mclign 11:44 am 14 Jan 22

    Hannah Zurcher Same people who benefit feom a decent EBA without resourcing the efforts involved.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 2:14 pm 14 Jan 22

    Ashley Kerlin sadly the union advocating this doesn't cover health workers. Good try but fail.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 2:21 pm 14 Jan 22

    Damien Lucas that's the sort of comment reserved for NSW Health. Insisting that staff where masks and PPE at work, then go to a pub and have a drink. Bring the virus back to the hospital and bingo. Yes it is actually happening. If the public servvants want the RAT kits on demand, the deal should be, take all precautions outside of work to protect themselves.

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 2:50 pm 14 Jan 22

    Tom Porter and that is relevant because?

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 3:39 pm 14 Jan 22

    Ashley Kerlin read your comment. The union advocating this is the public service union, not a health union. They already have those protocols in place.

Eleanor Taylor Eleanor Taylor 10:47 am 14 Jan 22

And what about the immune deficient and other vulnerable people? Even if you've got a health card 10 tests over 3 months doesn't help a 5 member family with an immune deficient child and a parent working in retail.

Tama Ra Tama Ra 10:45 am 14 Jan 22

Like. I get it.

But wow

The single use plastic of the past couple years.

    Joanne Mitchell Joanne Mitchell 11:39 am 14 Jan 22

    Tama Ra Yes. That thought was with me too

Kelly Tranent Kelly Tranent 10:45 am 14 Jan 22

Why? When majority can work from home? You would think that those that are essential workers and actually have to be around people more often would need access to them more.

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 11:04 am 14 Jan 22

    Kelly Tranent and who would they be?

    Hospital staff? Public servants.

    Water supplies? Public servants.

    Ambulance? Public servants.

    Teachers? Public servants.

    Do you get it?

    Kelly Tranent Kelly Tranent 11:17 am 14 Jan 22

    Ashley Kerlin It's not everyone in those positions. Public servants work for the government. The Public Service is the administrative arm of government.

    It consists of the government departments and other organisations and the public servants who work in them. A public servant is an employee of the government.

    There are State and Commonwealth, or Federal, Public Services. Whilst the Public Service includes police officers, fire officers, government school teachers, and members of the army, navy and air-force, technically the term as used in the study of politics refers to those employees covered by the Public Service Act at either Commonwealth or State level. Around half of all people employed by federal and state governments are covered in this way.

    In Canberra, the Public Service is generally thought of as the government departments under the control of federal government ministers.

    The Public Service is also known as the civil service, although this term is more commonly used in Britain. The departments, statutory authorities and organisations that public servants work for are collectively known as the public sector. It is sometimes disparagingly referred to as the bureaucracy.

James Quinton James Quinton 10:40 am 14 Jan 22

Great. The people that can mostly work from home need more tests. What about the industries that can’t work from home at all

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 11:03 am 14 Jan 22

    James Quinton hospital staff? Public servants.

    Ambulance paramedics? Public servants.

    Etc etc

    James Quinton James Quinton 11:20 am 14 Jan 22

    Ashley Kerlin yes but they have different unions

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 11:21 am 14 Jan 22

    James Quinton that's not the issue. People are shitting on public servants. But they forget what we do.

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 11:23 am 14 Jan 22

    James Quinton and those of us who can work from home most assuredly are. Most of us have barely been near an office in almost 2 years.

    James Quinton James Quinton 11:27 am 14 Jan 22

    Ashley Kerlin undoubtedly.

    I may have covid now as I had to go to work (construction). Possible brought it into my house to my wife and infant child.

    Elspeth Shannon Rollason Elspeth Shannon Rollason 11:30 am 14 Jan 22

    Ashley Kerlin teachers???????

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 12:37 pm 14 Jan 22

    Elspeth Shannon Rollason exactly!

    Sarah Grainger Sarah Grainger 12:40 pm 14 Jan 22

    Ashley Kerlin hospital staff are not part of the CPSU

    Ashley Kerlin Ashley Kerlin 12:41 pm 14 Jan 22

    Sarah Grainger and that is relevant to the discussion how?

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