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Premier's man wants public servants back in office - but not sure when


The state’s top public servant says he wants government workers to stop working from home “as soon as possible” – but it could be months before authorities order all staff back to the office.

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It comes as city restaurants and bars continue to experience plummeting patronage, largely due to the absence of office workers after they were directed to work from home as the Omicron outbreak took hold.

Department of the Premier and Cabinet chief executive Nick Reade told parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee this morning that he wasn’t sure how many public servants were still working from home since the government last Wednesday recommended that 25 per cent of its workforce return to the office.

Reade said it was up to individual departments to manage their staff, but he expected public servants were complying with the government’s recommendation.

“I would anticipate, being a relatively compliant group, that… around 25 per cent would be back (in the office) now,” he said.

“We’re leaving it to the leaders within agencies and the managers to manage it as they see fit within those guidelines.”

Asked when the government would order all its workers back to the office, Reade responded: “as soon as we practically can to be honest”, adding doing so would be looked at “over the coming weeks and months”.

“We’re very conscious of the impact of having people back in the office, whether it be in the city or other places,” he said.

“There is a knock-on effect – we understand that – but, I would love to have the workforce back as soon as possible.”

The government is currently encouraging employers to allow 25 per cent of their staff to work from their office, provided they maintain a distance of at least one person per four-square-metres.

Staff who return to the office are encouraged to wear masks, distance themselves from their colleagues and go outside for their breaks to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

Announcing the change earlier this month, Premier Steven Marshall said there would be a “staged” return to normality.

“We will monitor the situation very carefully and then continue to ease that (advice) going forward,” he said at the time.

The Premier told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that the government would change its working from home advice “gradually, carefully, safely, so that we can get people back into our CBD”.

“I was out and about on Thursday (and) Friday last week speaking to people and they were telling me that there had been a small increase when we announced that 25 per cent could go back as of Friday,” he said.

Results from Adelaide City Council study published in CityMag earlier this month found there was 20 per cent less activity in Rundle Mall in the week of 3 January this year, reflecting “almost similar levels” to the July 2020 lockdown.

East End, Hutt Street and O’Connell Street device counters similarly registered a “drop” during the same period compared to previous years, while Hindley Street recorded a “stable trend” with no major dips in the last three months leading up to the start of 2022.

Meanwhile, Reade told this morning’s committee hearing that the state’s powerful transition committee, which was once responsible for providing advice on the easing of restrictions, had not met since December.

He said the committee decided to stop meeting once 90 per cent of South Australians aged over 12 were double-vaccinated, with authorities including Premier Steven Marshall, state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens and chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier now meeting daily as part of the state’s COVID-Ready committee.

But he said the COVID-Ready committee was not responsible for making decisions and instead was only used to share information.

“Since December the COVID-Ready committee has discussed the facts and figures and the situation at hand for ultimate decision making if required by SA Health or the state coordinator,” he said.

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