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News : Centrelink Call Centre in Tweed ‘Could Lose Many Jobs’
Sept 24, 2014 -- Richmond MP Justine Elliot has stood by claims that up to 200 jobs could be lost at Centrelink’s South Tweed Heads call centre, despite the federal government trying to hose down fears of any job losses under an outsourcing plan.
Mrs Elliot told parliament this week jobs at the centre which has more than 200 employees could soon go under the plan to outsource Centrelink and Medicare call centre work to Telstra.
She has called on the government to come clean with its plans, saying job losses at the call centre in Enterprise Avenue would severely impact on the communities in her electorate.
‘People in my electorate want to know how many local jobs will be cut as a result of these decisions,’ Mrs Elliot told federal MPs on Monday.
The Department of Human Services (DHS), which has both Centrelink and Medicare under its umbrella, said in a statement that ‘contrary to media reports’, it was not taking over Telstra or Medibank call services.
In the statement posted on the departmental website, DHS general manager Hank Jongen said ‘The department is currently discussing a proposal with Telstra that would require Telstra to staff up to 200 seats in two DHS Smart Centres for a period of up to 12 months,’ Mr Jongen said.
‘These staff would be in addition to the department’s existing workforce. No jobs would be lost as a result of this arrangement and no work or customer data would be sent offshore,’ he said.
‘The positions would be located in Smart Centres in Queanbeyan (NSW) and Bunbury (WA), providing much needed employment opportunities in these regional areas.
‘These positions would be focused on general, high volume transactions such as requests for replacement concession and Medicare cards, thereby freeing up our skilled staff to focus on complex customer enquiries and reduce wait times,’ Mr Jongen said.
But Mrs Elliot was not convinced, telling parliament several days later that ‘this action threatens jobs, privacy and service standards.
‘The Department of Human Services employs nearly 7,000 workers in its Medicare and Centrelink call centres, many of them in regional and outer suburban areas,’ she said.
‘In fact, this action could have a major impact in my electorate, as there is a very large Centrelink call centre in Tweed Heads. These employees deliver very, very high standards in often extremely difficult circumstances as well.
‘At this stage, the terms of the contract that the government is proposing to enter into with Telstra are not clear, and there are still many unanswered questions.
Mrs Elliott also told parliament that penalty rate cuts and other budget measures would also impact harshly on families on the north coast. ‘The impact of cutting penalty rates in electorates like Richmond would be devastating,’ she said.
‘This was confirmed in the recent study by the McKell Institute titled The economic impact of penalty rate cuts on rural New South Wales.
‘The report examined the effects of cuts to penalty rates for those working in regional electorates in the retail industry, an industry which relies heavily on penalty rates.
‘The study found that the economic impact of penalty rate cuts would result in a loss of income of $22.6 million a year collectively for the 6,700 retail workers in my electorate of Richmond.
‘These cuts to penalty rates represent a 16.6 per cent loss in take-home pay for the average worker in Richmond.
‘The study also highlighted that cutting penalty rates for retail workers would mean a loss of $6.5 million to local businesses — a huge amount.
‘At the last election I had National Party members in my area publicly running around saying they wanted to see penalty rates slashed, and they continue to do that.
‘Labor will fight these unfair plans they have to cut the pay of local workers. We will also fight to protect working conditions and against the very unfair moves we see by this government in terms of outsourcing.
‘People in my electorate want to know how many local jobs will be cut as a result of these decisions.
‘Also, will Telstra be able to use third-party call centre operators, as it does with its own call centre network?
‘Will call centre work be sent offshore, where Telstra operates call centres? And it is not exactly clear how the privacy of Medicare and Centrelink confidential records will in fact be protected.
‘All of these unanswered questions need to be answered by the Abbott government.
‘This decision by the Abbott government is yet another attack on the good staff of the Department of Human Services.
‘These actions, along with their constant threat to cut penalty rates as well, are another cruel act by a very cruel government. We see their attacks on workers when it comes to penalty rates, and now we see these threats in terms of outsourcing these very important roles.
‘There are many people in my electorate who are very concerned and many at the Centrelink call centre who are very worried about the future of their jobs,’ she ended her speech.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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More Editorial From Centrelink
Centrelink is a government agency delivering a range of Commonwealth services to the Australian community. Centrelink is a statutory authority responsible, through its Board, to the Minister for Family and Community Services. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, has responsibility for Centrelink’’s day-to-day operations. Centrelink operates under the Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency Act 1997 which formally came into effect on 1 July 1997.
Published: Friday, September 26, 2014