Up to a quarter of the nation's Centrelink call centre workers are set to lose their jobs before the end of the year. Photo: Michel OSullivan
Up to a quarter of Centrelink call centre workers around the nation are set to lose their jobs before the end of the year.
Pensioners, the disabled and families will feel the pain of drastically reduced customer service as between 1100 to 1200 customer service workers are shown the door from the Department of Human Services, according to the public service union.
Many of the temporary workers were hired just months ago in an effort to tackle an escalating crisis in waiting times for members of the public trying to contact government call centres.
More than 800 of the operators will go on September 27, according to the Community and Public Sector Union, when their contracts with the department run out, and another 400 will leave after a three-month extension to their contracts runs out at the end of December.
The losses will be felt at government call centres nationwide, including at Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Tuggerah, Liverpool and Wollongong in NSW, and jobs will go in Victoria at Wendouree, Geelong, Bendigo and Moreland.
The department disagrees with the union's figures, saying 1100 casuals are to go.
The job losses are on top of the 12,000 public service positions facing the axe under the incoming Coalition government.
The temporary workers were hired using a $30 million lifeline thrown by the former Labor government to the department in May to cope with increasing waiting times, resulting in more "phone rage" incidents and a staff morale crisis.
The cash-strapped department, the government's largest, is facing historically high levels of demand on its services, with 70,500 outstanding claims for family tax benefits and other family allowances - almost twice normal levels.
Centrelink usually has about 13,000 claims for disability allowances and pensions on its books but is currently facing 21,000, with 8000 of them more than 42 days old.
The department is also trying to deal with 411,000 outstanding debts owed to the Commonwealth, more than eight times the level considered normal. It is also facing a $66 million loss in the 2012-13 financial year, blamed on a burgeoning workload, natural disasters and a delayed redundancy program, which was supposed to bring its wages bill down.
Community and Public Sector Union deputy national president Lisa Newman said the job losses would affect not only the discarded workers but the broader community. "If jobs deliver vital social services to the community, then we want to see government commit to protecting permanent employment in call centres."
But a department spokeswoman said 1100 jobs were being lost, not 1200, and they had been hired for a specific period to address "peak demand''. "These people are engaged on short-term, non-ongoing contracts or as irregular and intermittent employees to assist with peak times of demand," she said. "The additional funding provided in this year's budget was specifically to answer calls during the July to September seasonal peak period for customers receiving family payments.About 1100 temporary staff have been employed across the call centre network throughout Australia, in line with the budget measure."