Public service union officials have raised concerns about the health and management of immigration employees after the deaths of two workers in recent months.
Reports a WA Australian Border Force worker at Perth Airport had taken his own life earlier this year and the death of a Department of Home Affairs worker who died after a suspected heart attack come as a source described the current immigration workforce as a "pressure cooker".
The source, who did not wish to be named, told Fairfax Media questions needed to be raised about the working culture, and said "immigration officers in WA are dying".
"Staff morale is very low ... they are not allowed to speak out, and after retirement there is no support for mental traumas," the source said.
The two deaths come after a government-commissioned report delivered a scathing indictment on the ABF College, where a number of Border Force officials and immigration employees go to train.
In the report, department staff described being held in the “jaws of death” as they juggled an increased workload and declining resources.
Senior officials repeatedly raised concerns the ABF received more resources than other divisions but “has not been subjected to the same level of scrutiny”.
In a statement, the department said it commissioned the analysis "to better understand our performance and to identify areas in which we perform well and areas for improvement".
Former Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg also told a Senate inquiry last year he heard "significant anecdotal evidence" of trauma to frontline personnel.
"Australian Border Force officers work in a high pressure environment at the best of times, given the importance of their work and often challenging conditions," CPSU deputy national president Lisa Newman said.
"That pressure is exacerbated by poor decisions from ABF management and particularly by staffing shortages across the country.
“Staffing levels in Border Force are continually dropping, while the workload only continues to grow."
At a government level, the union was also scathing about the impact a previous hiring freeze had on the responsibilities of workers.
"The coalition government’s arbitrary cap on worker numbers in the ABF and all Commonwealth agencies is a major driver of this problem and should be scrapped immediately," Ms Newman said.
"Beyond these agency-wide issues, Border Force should be providing appropriate support for all offices to ensure their health and wellbeing is not being affected by their work."
But an Australian Border Force spokesman said there was no indication the two employees had died as a result of workplace stress.
"The department confirms the tragic passing of a departmental official on Christmas Island on 30 August 2018," he said.
"We are also aware of the passing of an ABF officer, based at Perth airport, earlier this year. These events are not linked and there are no indications they are work-related.
"We would ask that consideration be given to the privacy of the individuals’ families.
"The department continues to provide access to counselling and other support to all staff associated with these events.
"The department and the ABF provide a range of support services, programs and training to ensure staff are supported in their roles.
"All staff have access to a number of support resources including a staff counselling hotline, available 24/7; first aid officers, resilience training and individual case management services.
"For higher risk roles, physical and mental health screening is conducted prior to deployment and periodic well-checks are performed to monitor for signs of mental health impacts."
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