Centrelink and Other Public Service Workers to Take Industrial Action
Tuesday, 7th February 2017 at 1:29 pm
Staff in the Department of Human Services including Centrelink workers are planning six days of rolling strikes over a stalled enterprise bargaining process and the auto-debt recovery program, according to the Community and Public Sector Union.
The union said Centrelink, Medicare and child support workers would strike and take other forms of industrial action at various times and various locations starting on 13 February.
However, the CPSU said staff providing critical services, including “those dealing with customers unfairly targeted by the flawed automated debt recovery”, would not participate.
CPSU deputy national president Lisa Newman told Pro Bono News the auto-debt recovery program was a “debacle” and a symptom of years of budget cuts and staff reductions.
“It’s important to emphasise that this industrial action is targeted at the Turnbull government and its ideological attacks on DHS, along with the senior management that’s blindly followed that agenda,” Newman said.
“Our members are doing this because they care about the quality of the services they provide, which is why workers dealing with sensitive clients such as those being dragged through the robo-debt crisis will not be taking industrial action.
“This debacle is symptomatic of a department that has been systematically underfunded. It has had so many staff whipped out of it over the last five years, up to 5,000, and they have been replaced by casuals who don’t have the training or expertise to deal with anything.
“The government obviously wants to save money on welfare and its gone from a process that dealt with roughly 22,000 debt management enquiries a year to over 250,000 per annum and the only way it has been able to resource that is by removing human intervention from that process wherever possible .
“What we are seeing is a process design which lacks the sophistication of human oversight of the outcomes that it has traditionally had and removed the onus from the department to prove that a debt exists…to the onus on the customer to prove that a debt doesn’t exist.”
She said the result was a series of decisions based on poor resourcing.
“That has resulted in a series of perverse outcomes not only for the customers who have been incredibly distressed but by staff that have been able to see the errors that that system has produced and have been able to do little about it,” she said.
Newman said to fix the problem the government needed to increase the staffing profile by 5,000 – the same amount of staff the union said had been taken away over the last five years.
Last week lunchtime rallies across three states called on the federal government to stop its Centrelink auto-debt recovery program.
In a statement from welfare peak body ACOSS, CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said: “This error-riddled auto debt-recovery program must be stopped without further delay.
“The tweaks announced by the minister for human services, Alan Tudge, do not address the fundamental problems and serious concerns expressed by us and a broad range of stakeholders.”
Goldie said ACOSS met with Tudge and urged him to immediately halt Centrelink’s automated debt-recovery program, “which is operating as an aggressive abuse of government power, causing extensive stress, anxiety and harm amongst thousands of people caught up in the process”.
“We also repeated our call for the minister to convene a roundtable of key stakeholders and experts as soon as possible to design a humane and fair approach to debt recovery,” she said.
“Further disturbing allegations have been released detailing glaring mistakes generated by the automated system. ACOSS also calls for an independent investigation into these allegations.”
Newman said the union would keep taking strike action as long as the members were prepared to take and would keep voting down substandard agreements.
“We don’t how many staff are left dealing with the debt-recovery program,” she said.
“The department has been so secretive about everything to do with the system… when we issued notices of industrial action we also wrote them a letter inviting them to exclude debt-management staff by agreement with us and we are waiting to hear back.”