The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has published new guidelines on temporary redeployment of public servants to support services under pressure due to the Covid-19.

In a circular from the Civil Service HR Division to managers across the public service, the Department says the redeployment will initially be for three months "with a possible extension if required".

The circular states the government's priority is to ensure the health of the public, while also ensuring the continuation of public services, and in particular essential public services like health and social protection.

It says this will involve finding "creative and innovative" ways of delivering public services.

The circular states: "As part of these preparations, staff who are not working in roles that are currently deemed as essential by their organisations may be temporarily assigned to critical public service roles to deal with the current crisis."

It says that where possible, organisations must facilitate the immediate release of staff, "subject to the critical business needs identified in their own organisation's Business Continuity Plan(s)".

The document notes that all assignments will be temporary in nature, and assigned staff will continue to remain staff members of their parent organisation, as well as being paid by that organisation.

In deciding temporary assignments, staff skills and experience may be factored in, and training or up-skilling will be provided as necessary.

The circular indicates that appropriate HSE social distancing will be adhered to in any assignment.

When the Covid-19 crisis has been resolved, staff will return to their parent organisation.

The circular concludes: "You will appreciate that the challenges we are currently facing are unprecedented, and your continued cooperation is vital to ensure that critical services are provided."

The largest public service union Fórsa has pledged to cooperate with redeployment and other measures required to address the unprecedented  public health emergency caused by the Covid-19 virus.

On its website, Fórsa stresses that throughout the crisis, it has strongly urged members to volunteer for temporary critical assignments if they are able to do so  and to co-operate with requirements arising from such redeployments.

It states: "The union will continue to advise its members to co-operate with all necessary measures, including some that might not be acceptable in normal times, so long as employers consult with the appropriate unions, respect existing collective agreements, and reach agreement with the union if they feel it necessary to waive aspects of collective agreements in the short-term."

It tells its 80,000 members it has  sought and received assurances that a facility for staff to volunteer to take on critical roles will be put in place, because of the large number of queries from members who want to volunteer.

It also notes that HSE-recommended social distancing will be observed in all work settings, and that transferred staff will receive any necessary training and up-skilling.

Fórsa says the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has also indicated that transferred staff may be able to continue to work from their present location, and that there is also potential for remote working where this is practical.

The union says it has also redeployed staff in recent days to prioritise engagement with management on proposals and to respond to members' concerns.