The federal government's biggest department is spending $30 million hiring casual and short-term labour while shedding more than 2400 of its permanent staff.
The Department of Human Services is facing a $66 million loss this financial year blamed on a burgeoning workload, natural disasters and a delayed redundancy program which was supposed to bring its wages bill down.
The department, which provides frontline services Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, will see 1340 jobs cut in 2013-14, according to the budget papers, after shedding 1078 jobs in the last six months of 2012.
But according to secretary Kathryn Campbell, the budget gave Human Services $30 million for a "flexible workforce", most of whom will be put to work to improve its customer services.
DHS has been advertising for part-time, permanent or casual workers to fill vacancies from a few days to up to 12 months "depending on [the] business requirement".
The public sector union, the CPSU, in a bulletin to its Human Services membership, said the department's management was trying to quietly casualise some of its workforce while undermining the job security of all 36,000 employees.
After Tuesday's budget, Ms Campbell wrote to staff telling them that the "public service is not exempt from the budget cuts and the department is not exempt either".
"Many people across the department are working hard to reduce call wait times - and we welcome the $30 million being allocated to employ additional staff to improve our surge capability through a temporary and flexible workforce," Ms Campbell wrote.
"The government committed to the service delivery reform program in 2011 and the savings from this program were announced and taken from our budget in 2011-12.
"The staffing changes have been delivered since that time and further savings are required in 2013-14. I appreciate we have already achieved a lot."
Ms Campbell said the department's natural attrition rate of about 1000 staff a year might help to take the sting out of the downsizing program. "The key task for us is to make sure we are able to reduce the workload to match the staff reductions," she wrote.
But in its online bulletin, the CPSU has accused management of keeping the workforce changes from its employees and of breaking a deal with the union. "CPSU only learnt of the plan when delegates raised the alarm after ads were seen by keen-eyed members. This is a clear breach of the Department of Human Services agreement."
Human Service's budget statement revealed the department is predicting a $66 million operating loss this financial year.
The document blames the deficit on delays "in a program of voluntary redundancies in order to bring the staffing level down to affordable levels, additional costs incurred for service delivery in response to the recent natural disasters and other additional expenses associated with continuing integration of the former Centrelink and Medicare Australia''.