ACT Health move to return some staff members to offices

  • Published September 23, 2021

Canberra Times, 23 September 2021 

Non-essential government employees could soon return to their offices as ACT Health take steps to transition employees currently working from home.

ACT Health will investigate the feasibility of communications technology staff returning to offices from as early as next week, despite public health directions advising against it.

The 120 person-strong Digital Health Record team was surveyed on obstacles preventing them returning last week, including whether caring responsibilities would get in the way.

Employees report the advice had been productivity had dropped and the project was at risk of falling behind schedule.

The ACT public health direction in place since August 12 was for residents to work from home unless they were essential. While lockdown rules are due for review next week, the work from home instruction has not changed in seven weeks.

An ACT Health spokesperson said team members had been asked about their views on returning to the office in a COVID-safe manner.

"The Digital Health Record is an essential system being used to manage vaccinations in the territory's COVID-19 response," the spokesperson said.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said some work which may not have been essential two weeks ago may be urgent now.

"Staff are being consulted about how some of them at least may be able to return to the office safely so that we can ensure that those projects continue in a timely fashion," Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the ACT Health Directorate was not the only government employer which had staff working from home.

"Certainly the Commonwealth government has made a range of decisions about who needs to be in the workplace and who can work from home, as has the ACT government," the Health Minister said.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics building, Services Australia and the ACT Magistrates Court have all been named as Canberra exposure sites during this outbreak.

Health Services Union State Secretary Gerard Hayes said the staff survey was premature and a return to the office put employees at unnecessary risk.

"I understand that there are some positions where you really do need to be face-to-face in the health setting, but in the digital area, that can be done remotely," he said.

Mr Hayes said before double-dose vaccination rates reached 80 per cent in the ACT there was a risk to both employers and employees.

"It's very important that people can get back to the workplace because it's not only a professional but social connection that happens within the workplace, but it's time and a place stuff and I don't think now is either of those things," he said.