The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has condemned the federal Coalition government for allowing multinational company Serco to operate a Centrelink call centre, saying the move will put thousands of vulnerable people at risk.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has announced Serco subsidiary Serco Citizen Services will begin operating a Centrelink call centre in Melbourne within weeks, with 250 full-time equivalent staff.
The Serco call centre privatisation move, which may be the beginning of the future sell-off of Centrelink operations, is estimated to cost $51.7 million over three years. It represents yet another attack on the public sector by the government, which is determined to outsource as much public service work to big business as it can.
The move to sell off Centrelink call services to discredited Britain-based multinational Serco is to be funded from the same 2017–18 federal budget that slashed 1200 jobs from the Department of Human Services (DHS), which includes Centrelink. No wonder more than 42 million calls to Centrelink were unanswered last financial year — the justification used by the government for contracting out a call centre to Serco in the first place.
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said on October 11: “This deal hatched by the Turnbull government is an absolute disaster for Centrelink and the thousands of vulnerable Australians who rely on the agency. Serco is a tax-avoiding multinational parasite, plain and simple, that profits from downgrading public services and underpaying the people who provide them. Everything they touch leads to services suffering.
“Trusting the highly sensitive needs and information handled by Centrelink staff to a private operator is scary in itself and this situation is even worse. We’re deeply concerned at the prospect of Centrelink clients being dealt with by a company that runs private prisons and Australia’s immigration detention centres.
“Centrelink services have already been run into the ground as the Turnbull government has slashed more than 5000 permanent jobs from the Department of Human Services (DHS).
“This decision comes straight out of the conservative politics playbook. The Turnbull government has cut and cut and cut at Centrelink, and is now trying to use the appalling service standards it has caused as justification for privatising a critical public service.
“Centrelink clients need real help, such as that they are given by our members who have permanent jobs in the department and therefore the proper training and experience to actually resolve peoples’ problems. A private call centre that’s designed merely to make the department’s call waiting times look better isn’t going to genuinely help anyone.”