Andrew Barr encourages APS work-from-home flexibility to help staff navigate COVID in Canberra | The Canberra Times

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Chief Minister Andrew Barr has called for the federal public service to show compassion and understanding when allowing people to work from home, to help get workers through the Omicron COVID-19 wave. “What will help in pandemic management is a consistent and understanding approach from APS senior management to understand the circumstances that their staff and the broader workforces will find themselves in, in potentially having to manage sickness at a household level or in a particular school or in a particular workplace,” Mr Barr said. “Now is the time for some compassion and understanding around workplace management.” Mr Barr, who has emerged as an advocate of contemporary flexible working arrangements for the ACT’s bureaucrats, acknowledged the Commonwealth public service was not geared to dealing with shocks to its workforce. “The Commonwealth is just not geared – it doesn’t have the skills or the usual day-to-day realities of having to deal with shocks and workforce absences and all of these sorts of things, because it’s, not exclusively but largely, white collar policy or data processing or payment processing,” he said. The public service commission this week urged agency heads to be flexible on working arrangements in the face of new COVID-19 variants. Updated guidance for public sector bosses also says that working from home “may be a suitable option” for some workers as agencies take measures to keep employees safe from COVID infection. However agency heads should aim to return workers to offices when it’s safe, the commission said. Mr Barr in December declared the era of 9-to-5 office-bound work was over and flexible working arrangements would be needed for the ACT to attract high-quality staff. He said it “will never, ever return to what it was pre-pandemic”, and the era of compulsory daily attendance at the office for white collar public servants had ended. “The way we will attract and retain the highest quality staff is to have flexibility in working arrangements. We will never go back to 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, everyone in the same office all together. That world is over. It is over, it is done,” Mr Barr said. “That is the case for all major businesses in this country as well and even the Commonwealth are allowing a degree of flexibility for their own public servants as well. The world has changed. The future of work has changed and we must be flexible and allow for hybrid working arrangements.” The ACT government has also flagged investment in office space across the city, so its staff can work closer to home rather than in a directorate’s central location. The territory’s approach to home-based work has often come in stark contrast to the federal public service’s plans, which have sought to expedite the return of employees to offices throughout the pandemic. MORE COVID-19 NEWS: Speaking to the Sunday Canberra Times, Mr Barr this week also warned the first half of 2022 would be a bumpy period of pandemic management. “The test of it will be how much politics override good pandemic management decisions. I would argue, and again, not that the Prime Minister would take political advice from me, that good pandemic management is good politics. But anyway, time will tell,” Mr Barr said of the political climate in the lead-up to the federal election. “If the default position of the Commonwealth wasn’t to push all or most responsibility on things down to the states and territories and to work more collaboratively, that would make life easier for everyone. But it’s obviously possible for the current federal regime to change their ways too.” Meanwhile, the ACT reported 666 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the lowest daily total since January 3. There were 63 patients in ACT hospitals with COVID-19 receiving treatment at 8pm on Friday, including one in intensive care who was being ventilated. Of the newly reported cases, 224 were confirmed by positive PCR test results while 442 were from positive rapid antigen tests. There are now 5464 active cases in the ACT, including 1400 confirmed by PCR tests and 4064 confirmed by rapid tests. Health authorities are hopeful the ACT has reached the peak of the Omicron wave of COVID-19. Our coverage of the health and safety aspects of this outbreak of COVID-19 in the ACT is free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. You can also sign up for our newsletters for regular updates. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:


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