Human Services urged to hang up on Telstra outsourcing deal

Human Services urged to hang up on Telstra outsourcing deal

More than 6500 Centrelink and Medicare public servants have made a last-ditch appeal for their bosses to abandon an outsourcing deal that would have Telstra workers answering phones at the agencies' call centres.

The employees of the giant Department of Human Services say the proposal poses an unacceptable risk to the confidential information of millions of Australians.

The signatories to a union-organised petition say Human Services' troubled customer service performance could get even worse with inexperienced Telstra workers answering the phones.

But the department, which also runs the Child Support Agency and administers some Veterans Affairs and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme payments, said it had not made a decision on whether to proceed with the deal.

The union, the CPSU, said the move was the beginning of a privatisation of the services, threatening 7000 Australian public service jobs around Australia, but DHS said all that was "proposed" was a pilot scheme that would free up experienced operators to take calls.


The Labor Party took up the criticism of the idea in October, with the opposition's Human Services spokesman Doug Cameron confronting departmental secretary Kathryn Campbell in Senate estimates and calling the proposed Telstra deal "half-baked" and "a fiasco".

The union, which is also campaigning heavily against moves towards a sell-off of Medicare and Centrelink payment services, challenged the Telstra proposal in Fair Work Australia and the two sides agreed that nothing would be done until further consultation had been undertaken.

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With that agreement to expire on Friday, CPSU's deputy national secretary Lisa Newman will deliver the petition to Ms Campbell, asking for alternatives to the Telstra deal to be considered.

In her covering letter Ms Newman expresses concern at the level of access to sensitive personal information on millions of Australians that might be available to Telstra workers.

"Telstra would be provided with 200 workstations in two of the department's call centres, all equipment would be provided by DHS, including access to computer systems and customer records," the union official wrote.

Ms Newman wrote that she was worried about the "the unacceptably high risk to the continuity of quality services to the community, the risk to the security of private customer records, the removal of quality control and financial accountability mechanisms (and) inconsistency with the department's 'first point of contact' service delivery model.

"Your staff and operational managers are telling us there is a real fear of a return to a failed service delivery model that would once again see customers being churned through call queues.

"The Telstra proposal would also see a return of private contract staff providing customer services in department call centres."

This practice was abandoned about five years ago because labour hire employees were unreliable and underqualified to meet customer service needs.

"Service delivery staff and managers are telling us that they are frustrated that senior management are ignoring the mistakes of the past," Ms Newman wrote.

A DHS spokesman said on Thursday the department was considering the feedback from the union and its workers and that no decision had been made to proceed with the outsourcing deal.

Noel Towell

Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age

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