Major businesses switch to work-from-home amid latest COVID-19 health advice

Union reminds employers of their obligations to 'keep workers safe'

Major businesses switch to work-from-home amid latest COVID-19 health advice

Several Australian employers have instructed their staff members to work from home following the call of a national health expert to employers to make changes to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Recently, professor Paul Kelly, chief medical officer, said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) warned its employers to “allow work from home if feasible,” especially during the virus infection’s winter wave, The Guardian reported.

Employers who updated their work arrangements

Alex Badenoch, Telstra group executive, told The Guardian that the company has recently updated its guidance following Kelly’s advice.

“With the rise in Covid case numbers and changing health advice, we have updated our people on how they can stay Covid-safe,” Badenoch said. “We are strongly encouraging our people to work from home if they can, wear a mask when they can’t socially distance, and get their booster shot if they’re eligible.”

Badenoch also said that for Telstra’s employees who could not work from home, such as retail members and field technicians, face masks and rapid tests are provided to ensure their safety.

The Guardian reported that Australian bank company Westpac had also updated its employee guidelines to adopt a work-from-home setup, even before Kelly updated his advice.

It further said that, under a hybrid workplace model first introduced in the Westpac company in 2021, employees are allowed to work from home if they wish “with no requirement to be in the office.”

“For employees who are required to attend a workplace, such as our branches, we have a range of health and safety measures in place to keep our people safe,” a Westpac spokesperson told The Guardian.

Will government offices follow the lead?

According to The Guardian, a health department spokesperson told the news outlet that the office “strongly supports flexible working, and consequently reviewed its workplace setting in response to Kelly’s advice.”

It further reported that the social services department said it will move to a “tailored work setting,” which started on 25 July, to allow its employees to work from home.

Moreover, a spokesperson for the infrastructure department told The Guardian that it was “responding and adapting to changes in public health advice.” Yet, the work arrangements will still be on a “case-by-case basis.”

The departments of the prime minister and cabinet, industry, defence, and home affairs also said that while there are no current work arrangement changes, they are still monitoring health advice and have allowed staff to work from home.

Despite the advice of a health expert, The Guardian reported that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has “stopped short of asking bosses to let more staff work from home instead of the office.”

Consequently, opposition health spokesperson, Senator Anne Ruston, criticised the prime minister for “confusing” the public on the work-from-home setup, the news outlet reported.

“In interviews and his press conference today, Mr Albanese had a confusing message for Australians in response to questions regarding whether employers should direct employees to work from home,” Ruston told The Guardian.

“Obviously, this may not be feasible for all employers, but Mr Albanese’s comments have just created further confusion in the community,” she added.

Nonetheless, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary, Sally McManus, still reminded employers of their legal obligations to keep their workers safe, according to The Guardian’s report.  

“In light of all of this we are calling for until the wave recedes: WFH for all who can, N95 masks for indoor workers, ventilation & air purification indoors, full paid sick leave for all isolating,” McManus posted on her Twitter account.

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