Westpac is beginning a trial involving 500 staff returning to offices as more companies invite their staff back to the workplace, despite union concerns.

ACTU assistant secretary Liam OBrien said employers must consult with their employees to ensure that workplaces were safe.
“Workers have the right to refuse work that is a risk to their health and safety,” he said.
Luke Hilakari, secretary of the Trades Hall Council in Victoria, where employers have been told not to ask workers back to the office until at least July, said some employees were nervous about returning to the office including lifts, distancing and work stations and using public transport.
“The best way to resolve this is for employers and employees to have an honest conversation about the return-to-work plan, and that includes things like staggered start times,” he said.
Rob Aird, managing director for the Asia Pacific at design and workplace strategy firm Unispace, is one boss eager to get his staff back into the office, despite the productivity gains for some tasks.
“Our business model is a highly collaborative one, it’s about multiple departments combining seamlessly to deliver an overall result … it’s hard to make sure that happens unless people are seeing each other,” he said.
Holding Redlich national managing partner Ian Robertson said his staff in NSW and Queensland had been given the option to return to the office if they wanted to.
“Our offices I think all law firms and most businesses would be the same have a number of advantages, they’re more efficient. You can do a lot of the job of a lawyer at home, but you can’t do all of it,” he said.
“It’s very difficult to do anything involving documents, filing, obviously you can’t meet with clients at home, and while you can meet with your colleagues by Zoom … that’s not as effective as meeting people in person.”
Ian Robertson is eager to have his staff back in the Holding Redlich office. Attila Csaszar
Lawyers such as Erin Kidd, special counsel from McCabe Curwood, said that whether workers could be forced back to the office was a legally grey area.
“Employers need to have a COVID-safe plan in place, an employee must not be in a high-risk [health] category there’s no other reasonable ground for an employee to continue working from home … the employer can say ‘look it’s time to come back’ and if the employee doesn’t, it becomes a disciplinary issue,” she said.
Westpac said it was not forcing any of its staff to return to the office.
Westpac will continue with a distributed workforce for the foreseeable future, with a mix of people working from home and working in the office each week,” a spokesperson said.
“We are planning a phased approach to getting our people back in workplaces, with processes in place to ensure that we can maintain our commitment to safe physical distancing which significantly impacts on the number of people we can have in our corporate sites at any given time.”
The bank’s trial will not be rolled out in Melbourne, where Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has stood firm on plans to keep workers out of the office until at least July.
“We don’t want hundreds of thousands of people returning to the office, just pretending that this doesn’t exist,” Mr Andrews said on Tuesday.
His comments come as a survey of 237 Unispace clients including ANZ Bank, Optus, EY and Deloitte released on Tuesday found a third (36 per cent) expect the overall office footprint will shrink and more than two-thirds (68 per cent) think staff will work from home two to three days a week.