Govt encourages return to offices

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THE Victorian government is backing trends towards flexible work arrangements, putting $20 million towards five suburban hubs that will help facilitate the return of public sector employees to the office.

The state called its employees back to the office yesterday as its looks to the economy and bring life back to the CBD, after a shorter lockdown last month slowed the return to the workplace after dual lockdowns in 2020.

Public service employees will be asked to spend three days each week in the office, while the 75% cap on private and public offices will be removed with a density limit of one per person in place.

The government said the $20 million for its five hubs is “backing flexible work arrangements and local economies”. They will have capacity for “as many as 2,380 office-based public servants a week working in their local areas – closer to home”.

The first of the hubs is already operational in the western suburb of Footscray. Hubs in Williams Landing and Mulgrave will be opened before the end of June with two others to follow.

“It strikes the right balance between supporting the continued recovery of Melbourne’s CBD while ensuring local suburban and regional areas don’t lose the gains they have made from VPS employees working closer to home.”

“The hubs will increase economic activity in the suburbs with more foot traffic and spending at local traders.”

Melbourne has lagged all other CBDs in occupancy rates in 2021. The CBD had less workers at the end of February than at the start, recording just 24% occupancy in the final week of the month. The state recorded zero active COVID cases yesterday for the first time in more than three months, and on Friday will reach 28 days free of community spread should no transmissions be recorded.

The government’s announcement is a critical acknowledgement of changes in workplace arrangements that have been accelerated throughout the pandemic, and which appear to have made a permanent mark going forward. Melbourne’s office vacancy rate jumped from 3.2% to 8.2% over the 12 months to January, according to the Property Council.

Minister for Government Services, Danny Pearson said returning to workplaces in greater numbers across the Melbourne CBD, suburbs and regional Victorian locations would provide a critical boost to Victoria’s social and economic recovery.

“This will directly help local businesses that service CBD, suburban and regional workplaces.

“New suburb government hubs will also bring workers into Melbourne’s suburbs, providing support to local economies and for local traders.”

Also, masks will no longer be required in retail settings, and density limits in nightclubs and casinos have also been eased to one person per 2 sqm, in line with cafés, pubs and restaurants.

“This is a great step and one that will give all Victorians confidence,” Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive, Paul Guerra said.

“With the end of support measures like JobKeeper and rent relief fast approaching, along with zero cases of community transmission, now is the time to remove all remaining restrictions on the hospitality sector.”