Working from home: less privilege more right

Working from home two or three days a week does not reduce productivity and is preferred by most office workers, according to the Fair Work Commission, which wonders whether it should be codified in industrial agreements.

And so it asked for ideas. Including from higher-education land, where academics, have ample of experience of the office, research space and the class room, being wherever they want them to be.

In 2018, La Trobe U tried, just not for long, to make being on campus mandatory for the working week (Campus Morning Mail, July 6).

But the pandemic expanded working from home to professional staff and it became a union ask in the recent, eighth round of enterprise bargaining across HE – in line with FWC commentary on work and care in awards.

“Flexibility in working arrangements, including modified hours, working from home or job sharing, can assist carers to balance care responsibilities with paid work. Australia has witnessed a significant shift towards more flexible working arrangements. This has enabled more people, particularly women, to balance work and caring responsibilities throughout key life stages,” the Commission claims.

The National Tertiary Education Union’s submission to the commission calls for WFH to be inserted in the higher education award for professional staff, the safety net, beneath university-specific enterprise agreements. The union wants staff, individually and collectively to be able to request WFH, which managements can only refuse if the application is unreasonable and cannot be accommodated.

But managements are keen to see staff and students on campus, presumably because acres of expensive real estate empty is a bad look for the international students who pay the bills. As Uni Melbourne provost Nicola Phillips put it post-pandemic, when the university ordered staff to be on campus for three days a week, “our campuses remain our principal place of work. Being part of campus life is how we can all play our part in creating a vibrant and supportive scholarly community, where both students and staff thrive,” (CMM February 9 2022).

And the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association, which represents most universities, (Uni Melbourne not among them), argues its members have working from home covered, without need for it to be in awards.

“Universities have various cohorts of employees working a ‘hybrid’ mix of office/work from

home arrangements, while other employees are working predominately remotely (e.g. research only staff). Others attend work site full-time (e.g. front line staff/technical staff/student counsellors/library staff).” 

However, if the Commission decides WFH should be an award condition there will be no point for universities trying to bargain their way out of it in enterprise agreements. And a presumption in favour of WFH in new Commonwealth public service terms may encourage the commission to do it.

For academics who are not slaves to all-day, every-day in the office, this may not seem much of a deal, but for professional staff, the possibility of reduced or abolished commutes will be liberating.

The challenge for managements may be what to do with all the office space they don’t need. 



Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Subscribe to us to always stay in touch with us and get latest news, insights, jobs and events!