The flexible work options available for Aussies left out of the WFH debate

The ongoing work-from-home debate isn’t relevant for millions of Australian workers, but there are other flexible working arrangements that could similarly help improve their work-life balance.

As part of its Modern Awards Review, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) is investigating whether it needs to make changes to accommodate work-from-home arrangements for Australian workers on awards.

As the FWC awaits submissions in response to its discussion paper, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese acknowledged working from home can improve productivity and has led to record-high participation in the workforce from women.

But he pointed out that not all workers are able to entertain the option of working from home.

“You cannot work from home as a nurse, because you’ve got to work with patients,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

“So it isn’t one size fits all, and we shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach to it.

“What we need is flexibility, a bit of common sense and look for measures that help workers but also help employers.”

Alternative flexible working arrangements

There are many jobs that make remote work mostly impossible, ranging from nurses to firefighters, tradies to baristas.

But there are changes that could be made to make this sort of work more flexible.

For example, organisations such as Medibank and Bunnings have trialled four-day work weeks, and retail workers across companies such as Apple and Ikea have had wins around increased annual leave.

SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer confirmed the union’s current focus in improving work-life balance for members was to gain five weeks of annual leave.

“A fifth week of annual leave goes some way to reducing the gap that has opened up between productivity gains and wages over the past two decades,” he told The New Daily.

“The SDA is pursuing five weeks annual leave after consulting with our workplace delegates over the last 18 months on how they would like to see a fair share of productivity growth returned to them.”

For police, a shortfall of officers around the country and the 24/7 nature of their roles kept remote work out of reach, Police Federation of Australia CEO Scott Weber told The New Daily.

This is especially the case as police officers are no longer able to dedicate whole shifts to office-based work.

“There used to be correspondence shifts … they just don’t exist any more,” Weber said.

“The biggest issue is that our peak periods are Friday, Saturday nights, which is not exactly friendly for families … police officers have their leave cancelled or are not allowed to take leave [during peak holiday periods], which makes it extremely stressful.”

Weber said there needs to be significant updates to the technology used throughout the police force to enable changes such as the instant transfer of audio-visual data from body cameras to computer systems.

The PFA also supports the right to disconnect to give officers time to de-stress and recoup – along with financial compensation if that right isn’t respected.

He said additional systemic changes needed included transferring primary responder responsibilities for issues such as mental health episodes to health services.

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