Fears for the data of 53,000 more public servantsNoel Towell
Published: March 17 2017 - 3:56PM
Sensitive employment data on another 53,000 federal public servants may have been supplied to a private firm conducting workplace ballots without the knowledge or consent of the workers.
Both the giant Department of Defence and the behemoth Department of Human Services have refused to detail the extent of the employee data they supplied to private polling outfit ORIMA in the wake of revelations of the hand-over of extensive information by the Tax Office.
Unions are urging one of the departments to use the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct its workplace ballot so the department's public servants can be assured their employment details, home and private email addresses, are in safe hands.
Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan insists his agency was on solid legal ground when it covertly supplied its contractor with the names, email addresses, locations of work and pay grades of each of its 19000 employees without their knowledge or consent.
The Tax Office refused on Thursday to release its legal advice and one staff union at the Tax office, the Australian Services Union, is pushing ahead with its complaint to the Privacy Commissioner over the ATO's conduct.
Some of the information was then used to build a picture of which groups of workers were voting for or against the unpopular enterprise agreements proposals, developed under the Coalition's hardline industrial agenda, that have now been trounced three times in all-staff ballots.
Defence and Human Services have also ORIMA in some of their workplace ballots, which have also returned multiple no-votes at each agency.
Defence has failed to answer questions from Fairfax about what information on its 17000 employees was supplied to ORIMA.
Workplace union Professionals Australia says it and the Australian Manufacturing Union were worried, in early 2016, about the arrangement with ORIMA.
"You probably recall concerns that the unions expressed last year about the use of ORIMA Research as the ballot provider including concerns about data security," union official Dave Smith wrote to the department on Wednesday.
"Our preferred ballot provider, and the preferred provider of members, is the Australian Electoral Commission.
"The reports in relation to Orima Research and the ATO...are deeply concerning.
"The use of data gained through the agreement ballots to effectively "voter profile" is deeply concerning and undermines the notion that such ballots are truly secret."
Fairfax asked Human Services, which used ORIMA to conduct an all-staff ballot in November, whether the data on its workforce supplied to the polling company was as extensive as that handed over by the Tax Office.
In a statement attributed to departmental spokesman Hank Jongen, DHS said it had a "stringent privacy arrangement" with ORIMA and that its supply of employee information was consistent with the Privacy Act.
"Our priority is to ensure the integrity of the ballot process and outcome," the statement read.
"For that reason, under stringent privacy arrangements, we provide ORIMA Research with the limited information necessary to ensure vote links are sent to employees correctly, whether they are at work or on leave.
"The information we provided to ORIMA Research is used strictly for the purpose of carrying out an independent ballot. None of the employee information we provide ORIMA Research during this process is retained or used for any other purpose.
"The information we provide to ORIMA Research as part of the enterprise bargaining process is not only essential, it is an entirely usual practice and lawful under the Privacy Act 1988."
This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/fears-for-the-data-of-53000-more-public-servants-20170316-guzhhb.html