A reserve of Australian civil servants has been called in to support Services Australia, the government’s payments and services arm, in a bid to ease pressures on staff amid the latest Omicron outbreak.
The Australian Public Service (APS) confirmed it activated the use of the APS surge reserve on January 21 to help amid mounting pressures. The APS had initially built up a reserve of personnel to deal with crises such as the 2019 and 2020 wildfires, before officially creating the reserve in 2021.
Australian reservist civil servants are usually drawn from agencies across government and, according to the Australian Civil Service Commission, peak reservists could be called upon to do “almost any type of work done in government, as needed”.
Under the latest plans, hundreds of staff have signed up to help Services Australia for an initial period of up to eight weeks, starting January 24 this year. Many of them are expected to process payments for government services in addition to other duties.
According to a Canberra Times report, Ben Morton, Australia’s public service minister, said secretaries, chief operating officers and agency heads would be expected to “scrub their department and seek appointments from people able to help in this search”. .
“If people are hesitant to appoint because they feel their job will have to be in a call centre, Services Australia have worked hard to increase their capacity to allow people to do that work from home as well, and I think that fact encourages further nominations. ,” he said.
Although around 500 nominations have already been received, Morton said without more people coming forward, APS would have to rely on labor hire companies and contractors to respond adequately to the demand, a challenge the Australian government has recently been asked to take up.
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A long-term challenge
Last year, the APSC released a five-year workforce development strategy aimed at strengthening the capacity of the public service to meet immediate and long-term challenges.
As reported by World Government Forumthe strategy document, titled ‘Delivering for tomorrow: APS Workforce Strategy 2025’, responded to a review published in 2019. The review said APS was under-prepared for future unknowns due to its hierarchical structure and culture inward looking, as well as its underinvestment in digital people and services.
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However, a 2020 survey of APS employee experience with the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic produced several positive insights into its workforce management, later leading to the creation of the reserve. overvoltage.
The survey found that 49% of APS employees felt their productivity had improved that year, with 89% agreeing that their team had successfully adapted to new ways of working over the same period. About 65% agreed that their team’s approach to work has improved during the pandemic.
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“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Public Service has completed the largest mobilization of employees in living memory, deploying over 2,500 APS employees moving through service employees in areas of critical need,” the Australian Public Service Commission said in a statement, referring to its initial efforts to tackle the pandemic. “While we cannot know the precise nature of the next crisis, establishing the APS Surge Reserve allows APS to be better placed to respond quickly and support Australians in future crises. “