Flexible Work is the Fix

Like many large Employers in Australia, the Tasmanian State Service is at a crossroads about whether it will embrace flexible work or revert to pre-pandemic ways. As Covid-19 entered Tasmania and those who could work from home started to perform duties at kitchen tables or in spare rooms, there was a breakthrough in the way that some employees were able to work. 

The pandemic quickly pushed past cultural and technological barriers that we had created for ourselves. The view that workers couldn’t be trusted to work from home was offset by productivity gains, and we embraced programs such as Microsoft Teams, which had been sitting alongside our Microsoft Office package since 2017. 

As restrictions ease and life returns to normal for some, flexible work advances are being both challenged and defended by Employers. Stories have emerged of workers being offered to trade away up to 20% of their wage to retain their work from home conditions, while other Australian employers are signing up to four-day week pilots.  

So, where does this leave our Tasmanian State Service? Currently, there’s a bundle of flexibility tools that workers can request, including: 

  • Altering start and finish times. 
  • Part-time work or job-sharing. 
  • Work from home. 

A request for one of these arrangements can be made by any state service employee at any time in their employment. Requests are not to be ‘unreasonably refused’ but they commonly are. Often without reasoning provided to the applicant detailing how their family commitments were considered and overruled. 

Over the last two years, the CPSU have guided, advised, and advocated for members seeking workplace flexibility. Common areas where we have assisted members include: 

  • Refused applications on the basis of the number of work-from-home days being sought (hint: the caps in your Agency policies are unenforceable). 
  • Refused applications for workers with disabilities, even where work-from-home equipment was able to be independently funded. 
  • Refused applications for workers on lower classifications. 
  • Refused applications for parents returning on part-time days after parental leave (that offer part-time days that don’t align with childcare availability).  

Thankfully in most instances, CPSU advocacy with the Employer was able to over-turn initial refusals. However, there’s always work to be done to ensure decisions are free from bias, and that workers are not refused flexibility because of Managerial preference, employee status or classification. 

Increasingly, workers are reporting that flexibility in their job is just as important as pay. This should be encouraging for Premier Rockliff as he decides which path to take his workforce.  

The choice for the Employer is to innovate and genuinely embrace flexible work or to revert back to a pre-pandemic mentality. Our suggestion? Embrace flexible work by strengthening rights and conditions for public sector workers. 

As former FairWork Ombudsman Natalie James says, “there are benefits of flexibility to the Employer: people like it and they’ll stay for it.” 

If the Tasmanian State Service fails to embrace flexibility, our ability to deliver quality public services will be at even greater risk. 

It’s no secret that the working environment of Tasmania’s public sector is on the brink – with significant workforce challenges requiring urgent remedy. 

The ability to recruit and retain has slipped in key areas – such as Allied Health Professionals in schools, Pharmacists in hospitals, and Correctional Officers in prisons. 

If the Employer, Premier Rockliff, wants to solve these problems, he will have to go to the source. And luckily for him, in under a month he will be given a gift by his workforce – a Log of Claims that has been developed by workers about the challenges they are facing and what he can do to help. 

If the Employer is serious about recruitment and retention, flexible work is the fix.  

Post pandemic and as with any moment of rapid change, Employers and workplace leaders have the ability to set the tone and direction. Will Premier Rockliff introduce a four-day week? Or will he introduce remote jobs that can be performed from anywhere in Tasmania or interstate? 

The possibilities for the future of our Tasmanian State Service are endless, but the workforce planning issues we face are here today. With job mobility on the rise in an increasingly competitive jobs market – now is the time for leadership and innovation. 

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