Home Affairs update

Today, your CPSU National Secretary called on the government to activate working from home arrangements for all public servants. The government has said all public service work is essential, but we know some work is not time critical. What is critical is your health and wellbeing.

Right now, I think the department would help all workers feel better if they were communicating more broadly about what they are doing to minimise risk and facilitate working from home arrangements.

We want home-based work arrangements to be expedited and prioritised for vulnerable groups, carers of school-aged children, and those with at-risk households.

We expect the department to enforce strict physical distancing protocols, ensure the workplace is sanitised appropriately, and staff to be updated every step of the way. Please speak with your delegate or let us know if you have concerns.

Detail on leave and working from home

Here’s a ready reckoner on working from home, leave, and health and safety arrangements in the department. Please let us know if there is something missing you want to know about.

Home Affairs have confirmed all workers, except labour hire workers, will have access to paid miscellaneous leave for any COVID-19 isolation or illness. There was confusion last week how not wearing PPE on the job could mean you’d have to access personal leave, we’ve clarified it and Home Affairs is correcting the information so it’s consistent.

We have raised several questions and some concerns with the department about their response to COVID-19. For the most part, delegates have been raising issues with local supervisors who are on the same page, the difficulty has been delays in information from the Taskforce and lack of clear process focussed on supporting safety for workers.


Here’s a summary of those issues, please let us know if you have a concern in your work area that needs to be addressed.

1. National Marine Unit – Spray’n’Wipe is not good enough

CPSU delegates met with NMU and HR representatives yesterday.

Testing – We advocated for testing where members have symptoms or they have been on commercial flights where social distancing is not possible. We also want mandatory testing of workers with family members who are identified as vulnerable before returning home, or the department must facilitate paid leave and accommodation for a 14-day isolation period, before rostered time off starts.

At this stage there is no COVID-19 testing, unless a person meets the criteria determined by the Department of Health.

Travel – The department said they are seeking urgent written advice on whether NMU officers are exempt from state-based 14-day self-isolation periods as you are undertaking essential travel for essential work.

We have advocated for charter flights where it is not possible for crew to sit together and three rows apart from other passengers on commercial flights. Home Affairs agreed to raise this with commercial airlines and agreed that safety of workers was critical. You can read and watch guidance from the CMO on managing risk in moving through public spaces, on transport, and getting to work, through the intranet.

Sanitation – Despite assurances last week from Home Affairs it’s evident that hand sanitiser, gloves, masks are in short supply and many officers are unable to get them before they travel for work. Yesterday management conceded they are having difficulty sourcing supply but have supply on vessels and workers can decant hand sanitizer into smaller containers for individual use.

Please check your vessel has solutions to sanitize your work areas. The department’s COVID-19 fact sheet from 24 March lists “Recommended Cleaning Products”. Spray’n’Wipe is insufficient and does not meet requirements for good hygiene. There should be options available on the vessel or that can be sourced swiftly. Please talk with your Commanding Officer and talk with your HSR or contact us if you need help.

The CPSU has asked for more information on repatriation plans if a family member is unwell and needs to be cared for by the NMU worker.

Quarantine stations and border operations – We are seeking a clear protocol for quarantine stations to be established before boarding vessels in dock and on vessels at sea. We are also seeking a clear protocol for boarding and inspection of other vessels that emphasizes social distancing and protection from close contact, as they have in Defence-Navy.

Communication – One vessel has had a number of workers fall ill, thankfully no one has tested positive to COVID-19 at this stage but lack of communication has increased stress and anxiety for crew. The situation highlights how important it is for workers on vessels to know what’s happening with their shipmates and to be supported by the entire chain of command.

2. Airports – Compassion and PPE

We will be advocating for a clearer and more compassionate process when identifying workers who’ve been in close contact with COVID-19 positive passengers. We know the Department of Health is tracing close contact for all confirmed cases and notifying people.

What we need to know is how long it takes the department to notify a worker and how are they facilitating medical support and supporting that worker through a very stressful situation.

Sanitation – You should have access to hand sanitiser, gloves and facemasks. If you have concerns work areas are not being sanitized consistent with the department’s Covid-19-Fact Sheet from 24 March using the “Recommended Cleaning Products”, please talk with your supervisor then talk with your HSR or contact us if you need help.

3. Immigration contact areas – signage and distancing is a good start

Last week we raised concerns about lack of have public health information displayed in customer facing areas and that social distancing is difficult or not happening for customers waiting for appointments. This is important for workers and those visiting the Home Affairs office, specifically those who should absent or postpone their appointment if they are unwell.

Since then, we’ve had confirmation that appointments, interviews, and ceremonies have either been suspended or shifted to video appointments. We are awaiting confirmation that all public facing spaces have the Department of Health advice displayed prominently and available in a variety of languages.

We want the department to adopt a checklist to determine risk before proceeding with in face interviews, just as the ATO adopted recently for their field officers.  

Brooke Muscat-Bentley and the CPSU Section Executive in Home Affairs:

Stacey Harris, Ric Selem, Glen Hyde, Amanda Kumar, Mark Fontana, Mike Suijdendorp