NAB, ANZ workers to return in the new year
By David Schout
Office workers at two of Docklands’ biggest employers will begin returning to work early next year in a boost for local businesses that rely on their presence.
Major banks NAB and ANZ, which both house large office headquarters in Docklands, each confirmed a staggered return of employees in 2021.
Their absence has been particularly felt in and around Victoria Harbour, where a busy corporate office environment helps stimulate the local economy.
And while the move indicates another step towards normality, office numbers are unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels.
NAB confirmed with Docklands News that it would look to reopen its two Docklands offices at 700 Bourke St (between Southern Cross Station and Marvel Stadium) and 800 Bourke St (on Victoria Harbour promenade) in “early 2021”.
A significant proportion of NAB’s 34,000 employees work from the two buildings.
It had already begun returning workers at its CBD office at 500 Bourke St, and would initially aim for 40 per cent capacity.
Similarly, an ANZ spokesperson confirmed that workers would likely return in “late January or early February” to their headquarters at the west end of Collins St.
Pre-pandemic, the bank had almost 10,000 workers in Docklands.
“We are keeping the commitment we made to our people in September and will begin returning to the office in the New Year,” the spokesperson said.
“We are initially aiming for capacity of about one third in order to ensure social distancing, with plans to gradually build up numbers from there.”
In July, NAB notified staff it would temporarily close both Docklands offices at 700 Bourke St and 800 Bourke St, as a majority of employees worked from home.
At the same time, NAB’s group executive people and culture Susan Ferrier wrote to local businesses informing them that the move was not permanent, reiterating it had been a “proud part of the Docklands community for the past 16 years”.
“We appreciate this is a difficult time for many small businesses and recognise the business that NAB colleagues bring to the Docklands precinct,” she said at the time.
The bank confirmed it would now look to reopen the large office buildings in the New Year.
“This will be a phased return and managed with an abundance of caution and care, both for our colleagues and the community,” Ms Ferrier said on November 27.
But while the planned return of workers was a positive step, the bank stressed that things would be different.
“Importantly, this will not be a return to how things were previously – especially with the amount of time spent in the office – as we move towards a hybrid model that balances working from both the home and our commercial buildings.”
NAB and ANZ were two of 10 major organisations that committed to a City of Melbourne “CEO pledge” that vowed to return 70 per cent of their workforce when safe to do so.
In a meeting with the council, representatives from the firms such as Metro Trains, PwC and Telstra also made the commitment.
While the 70 per cent pledge is a targeted number rather than a binding agreement, it indicates that the exodus of office workers post-pandemic perhaps won’t be as large as some have predicted.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the city needed some form of reassurance for when work-from-home guidelines would be lifted by the state government.
“City workers and students provide so much life and energy to our city,” Cr Capp said at a November 17 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting.
“They are a pulse and a lifeblood to our city economy, and we are missing all of those factors in our city at the moment.”
Cr Capp said the council had both a hopeful and realistic outlook on workers returning.
“We of course don’t expect 100 per cent of workers to come back to work on day one; it’s unrealistic and it’s unsafe … [it is] about coordinating staggered days, staggered start times and ensuring an orderly and safe return for workers. It’s in everyone’s best interests to see that happen.”
Voucher scheme in the works
And in a move that could replicate the UK’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, the council will also explore the possibility of a voucher program for businesses.
Under the scheme, the UK government offered a 50 per cent discount off bills at restaurants, up to the value of £10 per person, to eat out on certain days of the week.
And Cr Capp confirmed the council was looking at a similar scheme, whereby a venue would receive full value for the meal, subsidised by the council.
While the UK scheme focused purely on hospitality, the council was also exploring vouchers for retail and entertainment outlets.
During the stage four lockdown, Cr Roshena Campbell said daily entertainment spending including hospitality dropped by 95 to 97 per cent.
While the easing of restrictions had seen a bounce-back, it was still 30 to 50 per cent lower than the corresponding period last year, something that was “untenable”.
“It is vital those business owners who have struggled under restrictions are thrown a lifeline as our city reopens,” Cr Campbell said.
“Hospitality in particular is a sector that has been on its knees due to COVID, yet it’s at the heart of our city’s vibrant culture. A voucher program would provide a much-needed incentive to visit city venues and provide a drawcard to those Melburnians who live outside the city to spend their dining and entertainment dollars within the City of Melbourne.”
The Lord Mayor will propose the scheme in a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews.