Centrelink workers prepare for industrial campaign
By Nick Everett
BRISBANE — Community and Public Sector Union members around the country will hold stop-work meetings on November 19 to discuss industrial and community action in response to Centrelink's announcement of 5015 job losses over the next three years.
Centrelink's announcement on November 9 was immediately followed by staff meetings at which management unveiled the agency's "new customer service model".
While Centrelink has attempted to play down the impact of the staff cuts on delivery of services, funding cuts ($91 million this year and $149 million next year) will have a devastating impact on service and employment conditions for Centrelink staff.
After details of the cuts were leaked a week prior to the official announcement, Australian Council of Social Service president Michael Raper declared the staff cuts "disastrous" for the provision of services to the needy.
It is widely rumoured that Centrelink CEO Sue Vardon had hoped to obtain ACOSS's endorsement for Centrelink's "new customer service model".
Vardon also caused the government some embarrassment by declaring in an interview that older women leaving Centrelink's employment would be less affected because they had their husband's wages to support them.
"Vardon's blatantly discriminatory comments are illustrative of the Howard government's real agenda for women", CPSU Centrelink section councillor Philippa Stanford told Green Left Weekly.
"At the same time as the government is cutting funding to child-care and the social services that affect women most, Vardon and the federal government are signalling that women should be denied the right to work in a shrinking public service."
The November 19 stop-works will coincide with community rallies coordinated by the CPSU's Centrelink section council to highlight the impact of the job cuts.
CPSU Centrelink section secretary Mark Gepp on November 11 said, "Our political and community-based strategy now needs to be strengthened with an industrial campaign. We must be able to demonstrate to political and community groups that, together, we can fight the cancer [of government cuts] and beat them!"
The meetings also coincide with the expiry of Centrelink's current enterprise agreement, which means Centrelink workers can take legal industrial action.
Centrelink management has unveiled proposals for a new agreement in which working conditions will be worsened. Proposals include abolition of flexitime in call centres and the requirement that call centre staff make themselves available to work up to 10 hours a day between 7am and 7pm. Overtime would be substantially reduced.
The new "model" has significant implications for conditions of employment in customer service centres. Requiring that individual staff be available for appointments throughout the working day, and significantly reducing staff at the same time, will leave staff far fewer opportunities for training or catching up on their work backlogs.
Centrelink staff will find themselves working in "one-stop shops" while other processing work will be outsourced to private companies. Australia Post's "one-stop shops" are being held up as a model for a "slimmer, more efficient" Centrelink.
No mention is made of the massive reductions in staff at Australia Post.
"CPSU members across the Australian Public Service are well aware that their jobs could be next if the federal government gets away with these cuts to Centrelink", section councillor Mark Cronin told Green Left Weekly. "During the first term of the Howard government, 77,000 federal public service jobs were lost.
"It is vital that the CPSU combat these attacks by mobilising not only its members in Centrelink, but also the union's entire membership", Cronin said.