Fears of a 'dangerous precedent' as labour hire extends to Medicare

The use of labour hire staff in the Department of Human Services has extended to Medicare, adding to contractors already employed in Centrelink call centres and even front of house roles.

A department spokeswoman confirmed "a very small number" of labour hire workers would be starting in Hobart. Fairfax Media understands that number to be at least 12.

Labour hire staff will soon be working on Medicare. Photo: Fairfax Media

Labour hire staff will soon be working on Medicare. Photo: Fairfax Media

The work involved isn't customer-facing work, the spokeswoman said, but "simple back of house administrative roles".

"Moving this administrative work to labour hire staff will allow us to better utilise our service delivery people with more specialised skills, giving them time to focus on supporting customers and more complex work," the spokeswoman said.

In recent months the department has started trials with labour hire staff performing

in Centrelink offices, as well as signing

with private companies to handle call centre work for the agency responsible for social security payments.

According to the main public sector union, using non-public sector workers on Medicare is a new move, and there is concern about the precedent set.

“It may only be a handful of labour hire workers in Hobart right now, but this decision is setting a very dangerous precedent and taking Medicare down the same path the department has already taken with Centrelink. Corporations should have no place in handling our sensitive Medicare records,” Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Melissa Donnelly said.

“Labour hire causes serious problems for the quality and reliability of service delivery, including putting sensitive medical information at risk. It also means the workers involved are paid less, receive significantly less training and support and work under inferior conditions with little or no job security.”

The union is concerned that labour hire workers in Hobart will be paid significantly less than permanent staff doing the same work, and that they are working in a separate location to other staff.

“That makes it even less likely that they’ll be able to pick up the kind of skills and experience needed to do their jobs properly,” Ms Donnelly said.

The use of contractors and consultants is set to be a key battleground between the two major parties in the lead up to the next election. While Public Service Minister Mathias Cormann

using private expertise is in the best interests of the government, Labor

to reduce spending on contractors and consultants.

This story Fears of a 'dangerous precedent' as labour hire extends to Medicare first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.