Centrelink, the federal government's main social welfare agency, is planning to hire 1000 private labour-hire staff to carry out "debt recovery" operations and assist in enforcing compliance by welfare recipients.
This latest large-scale outsourcing exercise comes just a month after the Coalition government announced that controversial multinational corporation Serco would use 250 employees to staff a Centrelink call centre, supposedly to help reduce long waiting times.
Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) national secretary Nadine Flood described the latest outsourcing as "new and scandalous". She said it would place labour-hire staff in sensitive roles that "should be done by well-trained public servants".
"Robo-debt was an absolute disaster for both DHS [Department of Human Services] staff and the community — the [Malcolm] Turnbull government is trying to abdicate their responsibility for this debacle by outsourcing the mop-up to a private company," Flood said.
"Labour hire has no place in public services — the Turnbull government needs to lift its arbitrary cap on public sector employment so that the community can have the services it needs.”
The Robo-debt scandal, which emerged publicly a year ago, involved computerised raising of welfare debts to Centrelink, many of which were incorrect. Flood warned that moves to privatise the compliance area would only cause a further deterioration of morale within Centrelink.
"DHS staff have an important job that they take pride in and that the whole community relies on,” Flood said.
“These privatisation moves make these jobs precarious and unnecessarily stressful. Staff are saying that morale has reached rock-bottom and this has real implications for staff and the community."
The new privatised compliance staff are expected to begin work early next year.