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Employers expect office return plan within weeks as Monash battles staff over in-person teaching

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said office workers had an appetite to return to the city and were waiting for the government to change its advice.

“As soon as the green light is given by the state government allowing them to return, we know they will come back en masse, as long as the mask mandate is removed,” he said.

“We expect to see further directions given in a couple of weeks following the return to school and seeing the impacts of these changes on our medical system.”

Rather than force workers back to the office, Mr Guerra said that management should consult with employees about return-to-work arrangements.

“There is no doubt that a hybrid model between working in the office and from home will be implemented across many companies, and we hope that the outcomes suit all those involved,” he said.

Monash University is disputing claims that he did not consult with staff and claims it communicated its plans to return to on-campus teaching in the first semester of 2022 to teachers and union representatives.

The university has eight days to act on the improvement notice, which follows from the National Tertiary Education Union that staff with serious medical conditions could be at risk of contracting COVID-19 if they returned to work without additional safety measures.

The union wants Monash University to provide rapid antigen tests and N95 or KN94 masks to all staff working indoors, improved ventilation, and online teaching to remain an option for all students and staff.

Ben Eltham, the president of the union’s Monash branch, said many staff members at the university were immunocompromised, had pre-existing health conditions, or cared for vulnerable relatives.

“We have been contacted by many members in recent days concerned about the university’s plans and their personal safety,” he said.

“We all want the university to keep teaching and research. But staff and students need to be kept safe, and the University has a legal duty to ensure that.”

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A Monash University spokeswoman said the university had communicated its intentions to return to on-campus learning to the union, staff, and students, adding the notice was “invalid, unnecessary and has not been issued in accordance with requirements of the OHS legislation”.

“Monash University has and continues to be committed to staff and student safety, through the more than two years now it has been operating under pandemic conditions,” she said.

She said the university had encouraged students and staff to get their booster shot, advised people to stay home if feeling unwell maintained social distancing measures.

Monash’s health services had also administered 5,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to staff and students and opened up booster shot appointments to the community.

“The university has strong ventilation in its buildings and has undertaken a comprehensive assessment of all of its buildings,” she said.

“Monash is currently considering how rapid antigen tests could further support on-campus operations as part of the university’s overall COVID-19 strategy.”

She said masks would continue to be handed out in spaces where risk assessments had found there was a need to wear a face covering.

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