News : Centrelink, Medicare Call Centres Casualised at a ‘Furious' Rate
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Oct 2, 2014 -- The federal government is casualising the workforce in its Centrelink and Medicare call centres at a "furious" rate, according to the main public service union.
The CPSU says the move towards an "impermanent" workforce threatens the welfare agencies' ability to help communities in crisis.
But the Department of Human Services, which runs Centrelink and Medicare, says the union is overstating the rate of casualisation and that the ratio of temporary to permanent workers at DHS "Smart Centres" is normal for a large organisation.
At the Centrelink and Medicare call centre in Traralgon, Victoria, nearly half of 550 operators are casuals, according to a bulletin sent out to union members.
Two centres in Queensland, at Toowoomba and South Brisbane, are operating with 42 and 41 per cent casuals answering phones, the union says.
The union and the department are locked in a furious row over a plan to have Telstra staff move into two call centres within weeks to answer phones, in a move the union says threatens 7000 public service jobs nationwide.
DHS says the Telstra deal is a pilot program and is no threat to its existing public servants and both the department and its Minister Marise Payne have denied that Medicare is on its way to privatisation.
"DHS introduced casuals into the call centre network for the first time ever in 2013, before the staffing freeze was in place," the union's bulletin said.
"At the time, then DHS senior executive Barbara Bennett made it clear to the CPSU that she wanted to see a lot more casual employment in DHS."
The CPSU argues that permanent DHS public servants have a track record of workplace flexibility.
"DHS staff have a proud history of responsive and flexible service delivery," the bulletin says.
"Whether working in call centres or customer service centres, the department's ability to respond to and support communities in crisis is world class.
"Staffing cuts and the introduction of insecure employment has threatened this valuable capacity."
But a DHS spokesman said the union had its numbers wrong.
"Of the 8018 staff engaged in smart centres 79.8 per cent are engaged in a permanent capacity," he said.
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"Of the 19,900 staff engaged in service delivery operations group, 90.9 per cent are employed on a permanent basis.
"Skilled permanent employees are the foundation of our contact centre workforce, however the department requires a flexible workforce to manage peaks in demand.
"For example, demand for our services increases as we implement payment changes on 1 January and 1 July.
"As a result, the ratio of permanent to non-permanent and contractor capacities changes at various times during the year.
"This staffing profile and mix is not unusual for a large organisation with diverse functions."
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.
In the United States, Medicare is a national social insurance program, administered by the U.S. federal government since 1966, currently using about 30 private insurance companies across the United States. Medicare provides health insurance for Americans aged 65 and older who have worked and paid into the system. It also provides health insurance to younger people with disabilities, end stage renal disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Published: Monday, October 6, 2014
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