Centrelink staff, union demand action on debt notices

January 11, 2017
The union covering Centrelink workers is demanding action to assist those at the receiving end of the debt notices.

The staff who have to adminster Centrelink’s “robo-debt” system are under huge pressure and are demanding an immediate halt to the punitive approach.

A Centrelink worker told Green Left Weekly that the system was implemented without staff being trained and that they were ill equipped to explain the debts.

“We haven’t been told anything about how the robo-debt system works,” they said. “We have just been instructed to direct people to the MyGov website. We have been finding out the specifics about how the debts are generated by listening to Hack [the Triple J afternoon news program] or reading articles on social media.”

The worker confirmed reports that the debt notices were being sent out without any oversight which meant that obvious errors, such as the duplication of income declared by welfare recipients alongside income reported via the Australian Tax Office, were not being caught before the notices were dispatched.

“When we were in training, the integrity of Centrelink business was always emphasised as being the top priority in all our dealings with clients.

“The way we are being expected to work at the moment, with this focus on revenue raising, throws the old principles out of the window. Centrelink’s business integrity is in tatters”.

The worker also told Green Left Weekly that staff were also being instructed to hastily and arbitrarily approve or reject student payment claims that had been initiated up to six months ago and were still waiting to be processed due to computer system problems.

“‘Just get them done so we get the stats in’, is what we are being told to do.”

On January 10, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) demanded the federal government immediately suspend its controversial Centrelink debt recovery program.

CPSU assistant national secretary Michael Tull said: “This scheme is an absolute nightmare for thousands of Centrelink customers who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, and the staff who are bearing the brunt of this mess.”

He said that union members working in Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support were already desperately overstretched and he put that down to “a system that’s been in crisis for years now”.

In the short term, the CPSU wants the federal government to immediately convert thousands of casual staff to permanent positions to help deal with the huge work load.

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