The department overseeing Centrelink will remove staff from work they've spent years learning and retrain them as it re-divides social security programs between call centres.
Public servants answering calls and processing payments for the Human Services Department are waiting to find out whether they'll need retraining or hold onto their old work under the "large-scale" redistribution of programs.
Human Services says rearranging social security programs between call centres will improve customer service by reducing call transfers and letting staff focus on fewer payment types.
Department insiders are panning the new model, called "Centres of Excellence", as a waste of money and time that will cause disruption and delays in the roll-out.
Leaders in the department's division overseeing the call centres described the overhaul as "ambitious and large-scale".
"With specialisation comes more access to support and training and the ability to develop a greater depth of skill in each work-type," they said in an email to staff.
Some staff would retrain in new programs, and others would keep their old ones but learn to process payments.
"We do recognise there are some very experienced staff who will be learning a new program or channel, and whilst this is nothing new, we appreciate that it may be a bit daunting for some of you, and we'll be there to support you every step of the way," the email said.
Critics of the changes fear they will simply reshuffle each centre's responsibilities at huge cost and disruption, for little benefit.
"Calls won't be answered. Claims will take longer," one public servant said.
"The time and money and effort they've taken to train us in our work will go to waste.
"Why don't they just invest the money in getting the IT systems that actually work? If they were to do that, I'm sure we would get far, far better customer outcomes."
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Human Services spokesman Hank Jongen said the department would plan training so that it still met customer demand. Staff would also have enough time to learn new skills, he said.
"It will allow staff to gain a deeper understanding of specific payment types and increase the number of staff who can do both telephony and processing work," he said.
"For our staff, having specialised expertise in the same location means more access to support and will lead to better engagement by being able to develop a greater depth of skill.
"Change is a regular part of our business and while there is always a period of adjustment, this concept has been generally well received by our staff."
The department would not say the number of staff to be retrained, nor the cost of the redistribution.
Human Services expects to roll out the changes gradually, retraining staff over 12-18 months.
It is embarking on the overhaul after trialling the new model in its Tasmanian call centres.