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Issue #1799      October 18, 2017

Tax-avoiding parasite

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has condemned the Turnbull government for its decision to allow multinational company Serco to operate a Centrelink call centre, saying the move will put thousands of vulnerable Australians at risk.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has announced Serco subsidiary Serco Citizen Services will begin operating a Centrelink call centre in Melbourne within weeks, with 250 full-time equivalent staff.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said: “This deal hatched by the Turnbull government is an absolute disaster for Centrelink and the thousands of vulnerable Australians who rely on the agency. Serco is a tax-avoiding multinational parasite, plain and simple, that profits from downgrading public services and underpaying the people who provide them. Everything they touch sees services suffer.

“Trusting the highly sensitive needs and information handled by Centrelink staff to a private operator is scary in itself and this situation is even worse. We’re deeply concerned at the prospect of Centrelink clients being dealt with by a company that runs private prisons and Australia’s immigration detention centres.”

Centrelink services have already been run into the ground as the Turnbull government has slashed more than 5,000 permanent jobs from the Department of Human Services. The number of unanswered calls has climbed rapidly as the government has continued cutting, with more than 42 million calls going unanswered just last financial year alone.

The union says this latest decision comes straight out of the conservative politics playbook. The Turnbull government has cut deeply at Centrelink, and is now trying to use the appalling service standards it has caused as justification for privatising a critical public service.

“We are seeking an urgent meeting with the department seeking more information on this dubious arrangement,” said Flood. “Clearly this deal has been kept secret for some time if Serco is planning to be hooked into Centrelink’s systems in just a few weeks. Providing Serco with even the most basic access to client records would be giving the company a frightening amount of personal information.

“Centrelink clients need real help, such as that they are given by our members who have permanent jobs in the department and therefore the proper training and experience to actually resolve peoples’ problems. A private call centre that’s designed merely to make the department’s call waiting times look better isn’t going to genuinely help anyone.”

Serco’s arrival is also yet another attack by the government on hard-working DHS staff. The CPSU points out that they have been under an unrelenting attack through a four-year wage freeze and wholesale cuts, so this latest move is adding insult to injury.

Next article – Union support on mental health

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