News : Human Services Agrees to Compromises on Telstra Call Centres Plan
Oct 7, 2014 -- The Department of Human Services has agreed to some compromises after a legal challenge to its plans to have Telstra workers answer Centrelink and Medicare phone lines.
The Canberra Times revealed last month that the department and the telco were working on a deal that would see Telstra employees move into two of its call centres and answer calls from Centrelink and Medicare clients.
The main public sector union the CPSU says the move is the beginning of a privatisation of the services, threatening 7000 Australian public service jobs around Australia, but DHS says that all that is "proposed" is a pilot scheme that would free up experienced operators to take calls.
The union, which is also campaigning heavily against moves towards a sell-off of Medicare and Centrelink payment services, challenged the Telstra proposal in the Fair Work Australia and the two sides met at the industrial umpire's offices last week for mediation.
In the wake of the talks the union sent a bulletin to its members claiming that DHS had been forced into a number of compromise positions.
"The CPSU has secured the department's commitment to address our concerns about its failure to fully disclose and consult with staff on its proposal to outsource DHS call centre work to Telstra," the union told its members.
"DHS has agreed to halt any further implementation of the proposal, take the 30 October commencement date off the table, meet with the CPSU to share more detailed information on this proposal and the business case to support it."
But DHS spokesman Hank Jongen was dismissive of the union's claims, saying the department had not even made a decision on whether or not to proceed with a deal with Telstra.
"There has been no decision made on the proposed partnership with Telstra and implementation has not commenced," Mr Jongen said. Therefore, there is no implementation to 'halt'.
"As no decision has been made, there is no fixed implementation date. We are committed to consulting with our staff and their representatives about the proposal.
"Consultation commenced on 17 September 2014 and is ongoing.
"The proposal, if implemented, would not result in a loss of jobs and no work or customer information would be sent offshore."
But the union said there would be no let-up in its campaigns in DHS, the department where the CPSU's membership and industrial muscle in the federal public service is strongest.
"The best way to continue delivering high quality services to the community is through a highly skilled, permanent public sector workforce," the bulletin says.
"While the actions we have taken in the Fair Work Commission might slow the department's proposal down it doesn't stop it.
"That's why we are asking all members to sign our petition to (DHS Secretary) Kathryn Campbell to ask her to stop outsourcing DHS work to Telstra or any other external organisation."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Australian Government Department of Human Services:
The Australian Department of Human Services (DHS) is a department of the Government of Australia charged with responsibility for delivering a range of welfare, public aid, health and other services to the people of Australia.
Published: Thursday, October 9, 2014