THE public sector union fears 20 casual jobs at the Centrelink call centre in Bendigo will not be renewed at the end of this month as part of a government push to privatise front line services.
The Community and Public Sector Union claims the Department of Human Services is not renewing contracts when they expire, and is instead creating new positions with private call centres in capital cities.
The 20 staff are the last casual workers at the site in Bendigo, which employs 110 people.
The government launched a pilot program with Serco last year to run Centrelink call centres, but the Serco site in Bendigo – currently contracted to a private health insurance provider – will not take part in the program.
CPSU field organiser for western Victoria Donna Shell said it could mean jobs in Bendigo would be lost to Melbourne.
“There needs to be a focus to keep regional jobs regional. These people live in Bendigo, keeping them in work is good for the local economy,” she said.
“When these companies employ labour hire, they pay workers less for the same hours and they are on short-term employment which can be terminated at any time.
“The labour hire workers are just answering the calls, but they do not have the skills to handle the inquiry so it needs to be transferred to a public servant which places more pressure on them.”
Ms Shell said a cap on employment numbers at Centrelink service centres, such as Bendigo, had also hampered their ability to cope with demand and put extra stress on staff.
The Department of Human Services did not deny that the casual jobs would be coming to an end once their employment contracts finished, and did not address concerns that the jobs were transferring to the private sector.
DHS general manager Hank Jongen said “non-ongoing employees” were used to fill “short term requirements for finite periods”.
“This is normal practice so we can meet the fluctuating demands throughout the department,” he said.
“Where the specific need has been met and the temporary staff member’s contract comes to a close, they are encouraged to apply for other job opportunities across the department.”
Human Services Minister Michael Keenan said an independent review found private call centres worked better than public ones – but he would not release the review.
He said the deal with Serco resulted in 250 additional call centre jobs, and that Labor introduced the outsourcing model in 2008, which he praised.
“The reality is that customers don’t really care who is answering their call, as long as it is answered quickly by someone who is well trained and capable of resolving their issue for them,” Mr Keenan said.
Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said the government had made accessing a range of payments for the vulnerable more difficult, placing further pressure on Centrelink staff.
She said there was also a restricted ability for staff to solve walk-in queries.
“Serco may answer the phone, but these are workers on minimum wage who do not have the skills to help you,” Ms Chesters said.
“They will put people on hold for skilled Centrelink workers to answer.
“This service is supposed to be there to support the public. The government provides big money to the private sector, but we’re not getting quality services.”
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.