The federal public service is preparing to redeploy staff to Services Australia as the welfare agency responds to surging demand for financial support to workers hit by Covid lockdowns.
Services Australia is under growing pressure to deliver the COVID-19 disaster payments after the federal government expanded their availability for people losing work because of coronavirus restrictions in NSW and Victoria.
The agency overseeing the public service's workforce on Friday said the 2000-strong reserve of Commonwealth public servants ready for redeployment would help meet the growing demand for financial help from next week.
Numbers of staff to be deployed to Services Australia from the Australian Public Service's surge reserve are being finalised.
The welfare agency has already redeployed thousands of staff internally to priority tasks as demand grows for financial support, and the agency may also use contractors to help handle the workload, a spokesperson said.
"We're working through all other options from deploying the APS Surge Reserve to calling on our other APS and commercial surge arrangements to manage telephone queries and processing work as we experience peaks in demand," the spokesperson said.
The public service announced in September last year it would create the bureaucracy-wide surge reserve of volunteers to help agencies in need of support for critical tasks as the government responded to the COVID-19 crisis.
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It followed the federal bureaucracy's redeployment of public servants to Services Australia as it processed an influx of JobSeeker applications amid the first COVID-19 restrictions.
The mass mobilisation of staff was hailed as an example of newfound flexibility in the public service in responding to crises, and senior officials have held it up as a model of reform to the APS.
In the surge reserve, volunteers deploy to agencies in need for short periods with initial terms of up to eight weeks, and every portfolio is expected to contribute reservists.
Services Australia flagged that staff would work late into the evenings to process applicants for COVID-19 disaster payments when the relief was announced in June.
The temporary COVID-19 Disaster Payment for workers in designated hotspots was expanded and increased to up to $600 as the NSW lockdown continued this week.
Workers who lose between eight and 20 hours of work are eligible for a payment of $375.
Commonwealth chief medical officer Paul Kelly later declared parts of Victoria a hotspot for the purposes of allowing individuals to be eligible for payments.
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