Tough call on 1200 jobs at Centrelink
September 18, 2013
Illustration: Ron Tandberg
Up to a quarter of the nation’s Centrelink call centre workers are set to lose their jobs before the end of the year.
Pensioners, the disabled and families will feel the pain of drastically reduced customer service as 1100 to 1200 customer service workers are shown the door by the Department of Human Services,
according to the public service union.
Many of the temporary workers were hired just months ago in an effort to tackle an escalating crisis in waiting times.
More than 800 of the operators will leave on September 27, according to the Community and Public Sector Union, when their contracts with the department run out,
and 400 more will leave at the end of December.
The losses will be felt at government call centres nationwide, including in Victoria at Wendouree, Geelong, Bendigo and Moreland.
The department disagrees with the union’s figures, saying 1100 casuals will go.
The job losses come on top of the 12,000 public service jobs facing the axe under the incoming Coalition government.
The temporary workers were hired using a $30 million lifeline thrown by the former Labor government to the department in May to cut waiting times due to increasing “phone rage” incidents and a staff morale crisis.
The cash-strapped department, the government’s largest, is facing historically high demand for its services with 70,500 outstanding claims for family tax benefits and other family allowances – almost twice normal levels.
Centrelink usually has about 13,000 claims for disability allowances and pensions on its books but now has 21,000, with 8000 of them more than 42 days old.
The department is trying to deal with 411,000 outstanding debts to the Commonwealth, more than eight times the level considered normal.
It also faces a $66 million loss in the 2012-2013 financial year, blamed on a burgeoning workload, natural disasters and a delayed redundancy program, which was supposed to reduce its wages bill.
Community and Public Sector Union deputy national president Lisa Newman said the job losses would affect not only the discarded workers but the public.
“These jobs are important to every community that has a DHS call centre and the broader Australian community that want to effectively access these services,” she said.
But a department spokeswoman said 1100 jobs were being cut, not 1200, and that they had been temporary positions.
“These people are engaged on short-term, non-ongoing contracts or as irregular and intermittent employees to assist with peak times of demand,” she said.
“The additional funding provided in this year’s budget was specifically to answer calls during the July to September seasonal peak period for customers receiving family payments.”