By political reporter Henry Belot
Updated about an hour ago
Photo: There have been increasing concerns for front-line staff at Centrelink. (AAP)
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Centrelink staff will launch two weeks of rolling industrial action from February 13 in response to the Government’s controversial debt-recovery scheme.
- Strikes expected to cause delays at offices and call centres across Australia
- Action being led by CPSU
- Comes as Greens, Labor push for Senate inquiry into the debt recovery scheme
The ABC understands the strike action is expected to result in delays at Centrelink offices and call centres across Australia, but those working on robo-debt calls will be exempt. The industrial action coincides with calls from the Greens and Labor to establish a Senate inquiry into the controversial scheme, which has incorrectly told thousands of Australians they need to repay money. The automated program, which cross-references employment data from the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink, has been criticised by social services groups for placing profits above people. The program has issued nearly 170,000 notices of potential overpayment since July when human oversight was reduced in a bid to save money. Centrelink staff who join the industrial action will also provide welfare recipients with a written statement outlining their concerns about the program and the Government’s bargaining position. In some cases, welfare recipients have been forced to start repaying fortnight instalments to Centrelink despite continuing to contest their records.
CPSU raised concern about treatment of Centrelink workers
The strike action will be led by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which has overseen years of industrial action across the public service amid a two-year deadlock on pay and conditions. Similar strike action was launched by the union in December although customer payments were not impacted. The Department of Human Services, which manages the Centrelink and Medicare programs, was informed of the strike action on Friday. The CPSU and some federal politicians have raised concerns about the treatment of Centrelink workers since December, with the public becoming increasingly frustrated. CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said budget cuts and close to 5,000 job losses had made it more difficult to provide quality services to the public. “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,” she said. “There are 34,000 hardworking Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support staff who’ve gone more than three years without a pay rise as they’ve fought for a new enterprise agreement.” CPSU assistant national secretary Michael Tull said in January that public servants were facing a “perfect storm” and struggling to deal with public backlash. Centrelink has also approached the market for “advanced customer aggression training” to deal with the public criticisms over the program. The Government introduced changes to the debt-recovery system in January to ensure welfare recipients can launch an internal review of their payments before debt proceedings are launched. The strikes be held on February 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 and 24. The Department of Human Services has been contacted for comment.