Union to join independent breaching inquiry

Issue 

BY JIM MCILROY

BRISBANE — The Community and Public Sector Union has announced it will join an independent inquiry, launched by a range of community organisations, into the federal government's "breaching" policy, which has led to Centrelink harshly penalising many unemployed.

According to a CPSU statement released on August 20, the key terms of the inquiry announced by the Australian Council of Social Services include identifying the "factors affecting and consequences of" breaching and other penalties and to "recommend improvements in the effectiveness and fairness of the system".

The independent review has been called following revelations in an ACOSS report that 100% breach penalties imposed on jobseekers — which cancel their unemployment benefits for eight weeks for not attending interviews or other such infractions — had increased 160% in the past year.

The independent review has been established following an August 13 announcement by community services minister Larry Anthony that an internal Centrelink review into breaching would be conducted.

According to the CPSU statement, early feedback from CPSU members "revealed concerns that an internal review would not adequately address the full range of issues confronting Centrelink workers, or those confronting Australians receiving income support payments".

Both the CPSU and Centrelink management have invited employees of the agency to contribute views and experiences to the separate inquiries on the operation and impact of breaching policies.

Hopefully, public exposure of the harsh effects of this regime of "mandatory sentencing" imposed on the unemployed will lead to widespread public pressure for a drastic overhaul of the system — which is devastating to the lives of the jobless and demeaning to the Centrelink staff who are forced to implement it.

[Jim McIlroy is a CPSU delegate at a Centrelink call centre in Brisbane.]

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