Casual jobs axed

Anxiety is running high among one of Latrobe Valley’s biggest public employers, with more than 120 casual jobs set to go from Traralgon’s Centrelink call centre by the end of the month.

Coming as part of the Federal Department of Human Services’ decision not to renew 878 short-term call centre contracts nationwide, the Traralgon facility will be the country’s hardest hit, according to the Community and Public Sector Union.

CPSU field organiser Jack Coleman said while the union had convinced the department to extend 400 short-term national positions until 31 December, more Traralgon jobs were likely to go at the end of the year.

Mr Coleman said the department’s decision not to renew the bulk of contracts was illogical during a time of “unprecedented demand” for call centre services.

“This decision completely ignores the major shortfalls of call centre staff across the country – wait times are increasing across all the different lines of DHS services which are chronically understaffed,” Mr Coleman said.

“We just can’t see any sense in this, with the ageing and increasing populations, demand for public services are always on the increase, and is going to mean more and more work for DHS and Centrelink.”

While a DHS spokesperson could not confirm the number of Traralgon contracts to be dropped, she said the decision was “simply the end of planned temporary contracts” brought in to assist with a peak demand period.

“These people are engaged on short-term non-ongoing contracts or as irregular and intermittent employees,” the spokesperson said.

“They came from additional funding provided in this year’s budget to specifically answer calls during the July to September seasonal peak period for customers receiving family payments – which is now coming to an end. “

Set against a backdrop of Federal Coalition Government plans to axe 12,000 jobs from the public sector, Mr Coleman said staff at the Traralgon call centre, one of Australia’s largest with about “500 employees”, were particularly on edge about their future.

“I spoke with my (Traralgon) delegate this morning and people are coming to her everyday generally not knowing what DHS are going to do next, it’s a very chaotic environment in which everyone is anxious about their workloads and their future,” he said yesterday.

“These casual workers are really going to be devastated, a lot of them are women and younger women who earned those jobs in the Valley, which is a really hard place to find new work in.

“These workers provide services for the most vulnerable people in our society, and if they are going to be on hold for longer, that’s going to be hard for some people to deal with,” he said.

While a CPSU spokesperson said Centrelink call wait times could last up to 90 minutes, the DHS spokesperson said the average wait time was 11 minutes.

The CPSU has called on the Federal Government to increase funding to DHS and Centrelink to meet the burgeoning demand for call centre services. 

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester was approached for comment, however he was not available before going to print.