Thousands of public servants will begin working from home again as Commonwealth agencies tell staff to avoid their regular workplaces during the ACT's week-long lockdown.
But many staff with roles requiring them to stay in their usual offices will have to keep working there.
The ACT lockdown announced today has prompted public service employers to send their staff home, a move that will keep many of Canberra's 57,000 Australian Public Service employees away from their office buildings.
Under the snap lockdown, Canberrans have been asked to only leave their homes for essential purposes including essential employment, healthcare, COVID-19 vaccinations, shopping for groceries and supplies and up to one hour of outdoor exercise.
One of Canberra's largest Commonwealth employers, the Australian Taxation Office, told staff they must work from home as of 5pm today unless they could not do so, or were in a business-critical role that must be performed on site.
An ATO spokesperson said the agency, which employs 2500 people in the ACT, would review the situation as health advice changed, and adjust its approach.
The Home Affairs Department, employing 6100 Canberrans, said it was ready to work under the ACT government's public health orders, including the direction for staff to work at home where possible.
"Where staff are unable to perform their essential roles from home, they will work from their usual workplace for all of, or a portion of, their normal work hours," a department spokesperson said.
A Department of Education, Skills and Employment spokesperson confirmed that its ACT staff would work from home as of 5pm today unless their role required them to work in the office. The majority of Canberra staff at the Department of Social Services will also work from home during the ACT lockdown, a spokesperson for that department said.
The agency overseeing the bureaucracy's workforce, the public service commission, issued a statement in response to questions for multiple other Commonwealth agencies, saying they would let staff work from home where "reasonably practicable".
Some employees would continue to work from office locations for operational reasons as they continued to provide essential services, the commission's spokesperson said.
"If working from home is not possible due to operational requirements, agencies must ensure staff working in office environments are adhering to social distancing principles, and following the latest health and hygiene advice from ACT Health," the spokesperson said.
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The lockdown in Canberra - a city that hosts about 40 per cent of federal public servants - will dramatically grow the numbers of bureaucrats working at home. About a quarter of the nation's APS employees worked exclusively from home in the fortnight ending July 30, when several states and territories had areas in lockdown.
The number of public servants working only from home has grown steadily since the Sydney Covid outbreak started, increasing from 17 per cent in the fortnight ending July 16, and from 12 per cent in the two weeks leading up to July 2.
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly said the Commonwealth had an obligation to set an example for all employers about best practice for working from home in lockdown.
"It is critical that this is done properly to avoid more community transmissions," she said.
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