Human Services staff launch rolling strikes

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members in the federal Department of Human Services (DHS) have launched six days of rolling industrial action over the stalled enterprise bargaining process and the Centrelink robo-debt crisis.

Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support workers will strike and take other forms of industrial action over February 13 to 24.

CPSU members will also use a Senate inquiry into the Centrelink automated debt crisis, announced on February 8, to reveal the full extent of dysfunction with the policy and more broadly in the Department of Human Services.

The automated debt system, introduced last year, has led to thousands of Centrelink clients being ordered to repay non-existent debts. The automated program, which cross-references employment data from the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink, has been widely condemned by unions and social welfare groups, which have demanded the program be cancelled immediately.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said on February 9: “Our members working in Centrelink are looking forward to this inquiry so they can shine a light on what’s caused this shameful robo-debt crisis and what should be done from here. This debt program has been terrible for the more than 200,000 ordinary Australians who’ve been sent letters, but also for hardworking staff.

“The Department of Human Services has been far more concerned with gagging its staff and fudging its performance indicators than fixing this mess, so this is an important opportunity for staff to speak openly about how things have gone so wrong and their suggestions to maintain the integrity of our welfare system without unnecessary collateral damage.

“Our members were warning for months that this automated debt system would not work, but this is an agency where the bosses don’t listen to their staff. The situation has highlighted the dysfunctional workplace culture across this agency, and the damage caused by years of budget cuts and the 5000 jobs that have been slashed.

“The focus of this inquiry is clearly the automated debt system, but we would encourage Senators to also examine the major problems more widely with this agency, and the impact that’s having on staff and customers.

“It’s a disgrace that 36 million phone calls to DHS went unanswered last year alone and that staff have gone more than three years without a pay rise as they’ve fought to hold onto critical workplace rights and conditions.”

“Our members will participate in this inquiry but they’re also continuing to apply pressure through all other means available, including six days of industrial action beginning February 13 next week. It’s time for the Turnbull Government to provide adequate funding and staffing in DHS so Australians can receive the services they need and deserve.”

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