A national explosion of the Omicron variant could cause public service staff shortages, including for critical service delivery roles, adding pressure on the federal government to set public service-wide working from home rules.
The peak union body has described the government's inaction on the matter as "reckless", urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Public Service Minister Ben Morton to step in and provide clarity for concerned staff still required to attend offices during major outbreaks.
Mr Morton last week conceded working from home arrangements would not yet become a "thing of the past" as Omicron and future variants risked unravelling plans.
But agencies, such as Services Australia, have been more resistant to sending staff home.
It's prompted concern over possible staffing shortages for critical service delivery roles as seen in supply chain failures over the new year period.
Mr Morton dismissed the concern, adding he was proud of the APS's work throughout the pandemic and would leave the decision for individual agencies to make.
"Consistent with the advice of the APS Commission, it is a decision for each agency on the arrangements for their workforce, taking into consideration the relevant state and territory health advice while maintaining the delivering of essential government services," he said in a statement.
Department and agency offices around the country were expected to complete their return-to-office plans from this week but states and territories, excluding Western Australia, have detected record numbers of the contagious variant.
The rapid rise in cases has resulted in a number of departments, including Home Affairs, Education and Agriculture, to send staff back to home offices where possible to avoid workplace transmission.
The welfare agency has also joined the growing list of agencies, telling its NSW, Victorian, South Australian, ACT and Queensland staff on Tuesday morning they would now be allowed to work from home where practical until the end of January.
Public servants working within Western Australian, Northern Territory and Tasmanian offices, however, will still be required to attend workplaces in person as the health advice in those jurisdictions had not yet changed in response to the Omicron outbreak.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions slammed the federal government's inaction on the inconsistent messaging, urging them to go back to the drawing board.
Union secretary Sally McManus said the federal government needed to stop pretending outbreaks affecting critical service delivery staff weren't also happening in the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
"Australia's professional public servants have served on the front lines of the fight against this virus. Public servants deserve our gratitude and our respect, as do all the workers who have carried Australia through this crisis," Ms McManus said.
"By putting our hard-working public servants at risk, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is jeopardising the delivery of essential public services that Australians are relying on to make it to the other side of the COVID pandemic."
Labor's public service spokesperson senator Katy Gallagher said clear advice was needed due to the challenges presented by the Omicron variant.
The ACT senator called on the federal government to be reasonable and do the right thing by public servants who had worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic.
"Some APS jobs can't be done easily from home, but it's upon the government to do the right thing by its workforce and at least provide consistent advice across departments on what the official APS position is when it comes to working from home during outbreaks," she said.
"Making this position clear will also help to protect the health of public servants, their families and the communities that they live in."
Mr Morton previously told The Canberra Times agencies should respond in line with the health directions provided by states and territories.
"It's always been the advice from myself and the public service commission that we do need to take into account the relevant state and territory advice because the situation is different all around the country," Mr Morton said.
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