The Community and Public Sectors Union (CPSU) claimed a ‘win’ on flexible work and working from home in negotiations for the Australian Public Service Enterprise Agreement yesterday, but the South Australian Business Chamber has raised concerns about the potential impact on the Adelaide CBD and the lack of emphasis on improved service outcomes and increased productivity for the taxpayer.
As taxpayer-funded agencies, any changes made should result in better levels of service and increased productivity for the public. This announcement fails to articulate how that will happen.
Under the agreement, around 15,000 Commonwealth employees would be able to take advantage of the arrangements. The South Australian Government, the largest employer in the state of around 126,000 public servants, has expressed their desire to be competitive with their federal counterparts in offering flexibilities.
As part of the proposed provisions, employees will have no cap on the number of days they can work from home in a week. While acknowledging the benefits of flexible working arrangements we cannot dismiss the potential for a negative impact on CBD businesses, which heavily rely on a strong community of workers, given that most public offices are located in urban centres.
Our cities need vibrancy and diversity, and businesses need an environment that encourages investment. Today’s agreement has the potential to decimate foot traffic in metropolitan business hubs and serve as a disincentive for small businesses to stake their claim in our city.
Since the pandemic demanded new ways of working, flexible workplace arrangements have become far more common in the private sector. Some businesses have seen improvements in productivity and employee satisfaction and retention. However, an increase in working-from-home days in our local public sector would be devastating for cafes, restaurants, and retail outlets, which rely on regular foot traffic to remain viable.
We can’t allow an agreement like this to be made on a state level. Businesses that rely on city workers for their trade every day will simply not be able to survive a mass exodus of workers.
It was just over a year ago that then Treasurer Rob Lucas urged public service workers to return to their offices after nearly two years of remote work, which had forced many CBD-based retail and hospitality businesses to retreat.
The South Australian Business Chamber has supported initiatives that encourage workers to return to the office since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers need to create environments where people want to engage and collaborate with their colleagues in person, even when flexible working arrangements are possible.