Outsourcing threat to ATO jobs

"The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) plans to shed thousands of full-time jobs and drastically increase outsourcing in areas including debt collection, tax refund management and business activity statements as part of a new efficiency drive", according to the February 13 Australian Financial Review.

A new "business model" for the ATO Operations division calls for an increase in outsourced functions from the current 1% of the Operations workforce to 25%, and for a cut in permanent full-time staff from 82.5% to 35%, according to the AFR.

Jeff Lapidos, the secretary of the Australian Services Union's tax division, estimated that 3000 full-time staff would have to go to meet these targets.

The ATO's chief operating officer Raelene Vivian told the AFR that the document was merely a "discussion paper" with "no time frame". Natural attrition would mean sackings weren't necessary, she said. However, such drastic cuts to full-time permanent staff are unlikely to be achieved merely through attrition.

In a bulletin to its members, the Community and Public Sector Union has said: "The CPSU has made it clear to the ATO that any proposal which cuts full-time permanent jobs would be totally unacceptable to staff. We believe there is no reason for ATO to increase the amount of work performed by non-ongoing or outsourced staff. This is a direct threat to the security of full-time ongoing employment in the ATO and bad public policy and administration."

The CPSU criticised not only ATO management but also the federal government, whose 2008 budget included an "efficiency dividend" (funding cuts to the Australian public service) of 3.25%. The CPSU said: "We have called again on the Government to abolish the so-called 'efficiency' dividend, and to rule out any proposals that undermine job security and services."

In recent years, there has been an increase in the use of outsourcing, and of employees on short-term contracts, rather than permanent ATO employees.

The "operations business model" is an extension of this trend.