Working from Home (‘WFH’) arrangements were a salient feature of the COVID-19 pandemic and one which show no signs of disappearing from the workplace landscape. Considering this, Australian unions are increasingly adopting positions regarding WFH arrangements. The purpose of this article is to provide a snapshot of this issue as it appears from the prospective of unions and how the future may look.

Commonwealth and Public Sector Union

The Commonwealth and Public Sector Union (‘CPSU’) represents the Commonwealth public service, one of the largest workforces in Australia, and is an important barometer for how other unions will approach WFH. In this case, the CPSU has been vocal in pushing for an unequivocal right for its members to enter WFH arrangements. The CPSU has expressed its belief that most public servants can effectively perform their roles from home, as demonstrated during the pandemic, and as such should be free to according to their personal circumstances.

Australian Council of Trade Unions

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (‘ACTU’) has largely been in lockstep with the CPSU on this matter. As expressed in the ACTU ‘Working from Home Charter’, the ACTU is committed to WFH arrangements being offered to all suitable workers to accept on a voluntary basis. It has reiterated that such arrangements must include employers providing appropriate equipment and training to WFH employees and must also reimburse all working time and work-related expenses. The ACTU has also adopted the position that WFH arrangements should include paying casual and permanent staff who are sick with COVID-19 to remain at home rather than coming into work.

Other Unions

A similar pattern emerges across other unions. Emblematic of this are the Financial Services Union, the National Tertiary Education Union, and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Each of these unions is pushing for WFH arrangements to be locked in as a mandated right for their employees. According to these unions, these arrangements should give employees the opportunity to enter in WFH arrangements based on their personal circumstances, responsibilities, and preferences as these may change. There is recognition that employers need space to refuse requests, but only with good reason. As such, clauses to Awards are being sought that will allow refusals, but limited to situations where requests cannot be accommodated due to, for example, workplace resourcing.

Conclusion

WFH arrangements are most likely here to stay as part of the employment landscape. The advocacy of Australian unions for employees to have an unlimited right to seek WFH arrangements show no signs of dissipating. Employers must understand these positions so that they can adequately consider how their businesses will address the issue of WFH arrangements.

If you have any questions about how to deal with WFH arrangements, please do not hesitate to contact Daniel (daniel@morganenglish.com.au) and the Workplace team at M+E today.

 

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