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Civil service prepares plans to ensure ‘resilience’ as pandemic hits staff complement

Johnny Bugeja

Chief Secretary Darren Grech has called on civil servants to act with “absolute resolve and commitment” as he issued instructions on how the public sector should restructure its work practices to ensure the delivery of vital services against the backdrop of a surge in virus cases.

Mr Grech said the civil service must strive to ensure “resilience of functionality” even as a large number of public sector workers are either sick with Covid-19 or at home in self-isolation.

The guidance, issued on Monday in the form of a circular, seeks to ensure that wherever possible, civil servants work from home even if in self-isolation, and that personnel is available to redistribute where possible and necessary to bolster departments that are struggling.

Last week, even before the latest in numbers, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo warned that the spike in cases had placed huge strain on the public sector, raising concern about the continued provision of essential public services.

“The effect that this infection is having on our frontline services is in every department now,” Mr Picardo said at the time.

“That means that there is no department that is fine, that can send people to support another department.”

“We are looking at the possibility that the government may not be able to provide the services that we are required to provide to this community in order to keep us all healthy and well.”

Mr Picardo said that this went beyond the provision of key frontline services such as policing and healthcare and was affecting every department.

“I’m not talking about counters here, I’m talking about all the essential services that we provide,” he said.

With immediate effect, the civil service will prepare to revert back to Team A and Team B scenarios, “as long as the team working from home is truly able to deliver the necessary provision for the Department”.

If it cannot, then working from home will not be allowed for those department.

The Chief Secretary said he does not want public servants “sitting idly at home or indeed elsewhere”, and computer activity will be logged and disciplinary measures will be taken for non-compliance.

He emphasised that during core working hours, officers working from home “must be at home”.

Unlike in the previous lockdown, departments will not be required to keep “fresh” teams at home even if they are not working.

With the civil service under great strain given the high number of cases and people in isolation, he said any surplus capacity must be identified so that staff can be redeployed elsewhere if necessary.

Civil servants are to maintain their social bubbles in the workplace, arrange for staggered entry and exits, and maintain a log of arrangements in place to note down movement of people.

All meetings must be conducted using virtual platforms.

“Some Departments simply cannot function from home, so let us endeavour to provide the service that Gibraltar needs,” Mr Grech said in the circular.

“Clearly this is a rapidly changing situation and we will be monitoring and adhering to public health advice at all times.”

“You must keep the [Human Resources Manager] informed of arrangements at all times.”

“Remember the ultimate aim is to build in resilience of functionality.”

“We have to somehow continue to afford a service, even though it seems I am asking you to build a jigsaw puzzle of 6000 pieces, with just 5000 and decreasing it seems.”

“It is worth noting at this point that self-isolating does not mean you make no attempts to engage and work from home if you can.”

“I believe in you and in the officers you are responsible for. We should need no additional motivation, we are trying to save lives and ensure the economic survival of our little nation.”

“We will overcome this. Of this I have no doubts.”