Commonwealth public servants will find themselves seconded to other federal and state agencies, or even community organisations, in the fight against COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ordered all heads of government agencies to identify employees whose duties aren’t currently related to the coronavirus response so they can be moved to areas where they are.
In a directive issued on March 26 the PM orders his top public servants to carry out an urgent stock take of their staff and the functions performed by their agencies, to enable “the movement of public servants to functions critical to the continued delivery of services to the public”.
“The object of this direction is to facilitate the most efficient and effective deployment of APS employees and expertise to meet the exceptional challenge posed by COVID 19 to Australian society,” he says.
Mr Morrison orders agency heads to identify all areas of their agency’s work that are critical to the delivery of services to the public, or the operation of the APS as whole, during the current pandemic crisis.
Anyone not involved in this work is to be temporarily deployed by order of Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott to other APS agencies, state and territory agencies or community organisations, the directive says.
Agency heads must cooperate with all directions made by the Commissioner, the PM warns.
“Each Agency Head is required to cooperate with any requests or directions made by the Commissioner in relation to the provision of services by APS employees to sectors of critical need,” Mr Morrison says. “Those areas of critical need may be in state or territory government sectors, or in community organisations.”
The directive is effective immediately.
Unions says public servants being put at risk
It came a day after the union representing Commomwealth public servants, the CPSU, accused some government departments and agencies of blocking or delaying work from home arrangements for staff.
“This is reckless and short-sighted,” CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said in a statement last Thursday. “Recalcitrant managers are putting our public sector workers at risk and putting at risk the public health measures governments are trying to implement.
“We continue to deal with APS agencies dragging their heels on implementing these arrangements,” Ms Donnelly said.
Where working from home is ‘a more complicated proposition’, such as in frontline services like Services Australia, workers must be guaranteed that social distancing and sanitation enforcement is being observed, the union says.
The Commission has since released updated guidelines for staff which say that wherever possible public servants should work from home subject to the decisions of agency heads.
It follows an open letter to the APS from Mr Woolcott and DPMC secretary Philip Gaetjens on March 20 stressing the vital role of the public service in the coronavirus crisis.
“We do not yet know the full extent of COVID-19, but we do know that the APS has a vital role in advising on the health and economic response and managing the delivery of the assistance to help with recovery,” the letter says.
It says departmental and agency heads are meeting daily to manage whole-of government issues relating to COVID-19 including contingency planning.
The letter says the need for an agile and responsive public service highlighted in David Thodey’s Delivering for Australians report is greater than ever.
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up to the Government News newsletter