Work From Home

Public servants told to pay the office power bills

Public servants told to pay the office power bills

Hundreds of Bureau of Statistics public servants are to be sent home with a laptop as the bureau pursues a plan to provide desks for only 80 per cent of its workforce.

The ABS is keen to use the work-from-home arrangements to reduce the amount of costly office space it occupies around ... The ABS is keen to use the work-from-home arrangements to reduce the amount of costly office space it occupies around Australia, Photo: istock photos

But there’s a catch.

The “teleworking agreement” has a clause forcing workers to pay all the costs of their arrangement including power, phone, internet, water and gas.

The ABS, which is keen to use the work-from-home arrangements to reduce the amount of costly office space it occupies around Australia, says its public servants can simply claim those costs back at tax time.

The bureau also says that no-one will be forced to go home to work and that workers can choose the arrangement that suits them best. 

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But insiders are unhappy, grumbling that the bureau is outsourcing its costs to its own workers.

The bureau says it is moving to an “activity based working setup” which, it says, will relieve it of the burden of paying for desks sitting empty while workers are away from the office.

Unused office space is a problem across the federal government with taxpayers paying for about 34,000 work stations which are sitting idle in about 500 buildings around Australia.

Now, ABS bosses have calculated that they only need to provide enough desks to seat 80 per cent of its employees.

The  bureau had about 2800 public servants on its books as of June 2015, meaning that up to 560 public of its employees could be on teleworking arrangements at any given time.

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To be able to work from home, an employee must sign a 12-page teleworking agreement and it is the following clause that is causing consternation in the ranks.

“I agree that the costs of home based utilities such as electricity, water or gas, internet service provider and or phone provider are to be met by me, not by the ABS,” the agreement reads.

But a spokesman defended the arrangement, saying workers would be given all the support they needed to work from home.

“The ABS provides (and maintains) the equipment and supplies needed to telework, including a laptop,” the spokesman said.

“We don’t reimburse utility expenses.

“The appropriate proportion of these types of expenses may be claimed as a tax deduction.

“Employees opt in to teleworking arrangements themselves, so it’s up to the employee to decide whether or not to telework, taking into account the costs and benefits to them.”
 

The spokesman went on to say that the bureau was moving to a hot desking set-up to make more cost-effective use of its office space.

“Progressively, we have been moving our office space to an activity based working set-up, mainly as leases are renewed,” he said.

“This entails reducing our traditionally required space and workstation numbers by 20 per cent  in recognition of the fact that on any given day a significant proportion of our staff are not in the office…and therefore we don’t need to have desks for every single staff member.   

“As part of activity based work, we use the released space for other work environments, including quiet zones, open plan meeting and collaborative spaces, and improved video conferencing rooms.

“The combination of teleworking, activity based working, and spare space, particularly in Canberra, has allowed us to bring a lot of the Census functions this time around into existing leased spaces across the existing ABS property portfolio, to save money on lease costs.”