Centrelink staff will go on strike next week over the ongoing robo-debt fiasco with morale hitting rock bottom as a result of the program.
Department of Human Services employees will conduct an industrial action campaign over a two week period beginning next week, including 30 minute rolling stoppages, and preventing the management of system performances.
The action is another headache that government does not want on this issue. The Centrelink automated debt recovery process already facing an Ombudsman investigation and Senate inquiry.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) informed the department of the planned strike on Friday, saying the action was being taken die to the “continuing damage caused by senior management and the Turnbull Government”.
The Centrelink automated debt recovery system, implemented last year, cross-checks welfare information with ATO data and automatically produces debt notices to about 20,000 Australians each week.
The system has attracted enormous criticism for miscalculating these debts and sending them to people that don’t in fact owe any money.
The process had taken its toll on thousands of Australians, and had also had an impact on Centrelink staff who dealt with complaints and reviews, CPSU Deputy President Lisa Newman said.
“[The staff] are gutted – I’ve never seen moral as low as it has been,” Ms Newman told InnovationAus.com. “It’s absolutely soul-destroying to see errors and then be told you can’t fix them.
“[Staff] know how this stuff has traditionally been dealt with and they know the kind of oversight that is required to make correct decisions on debt. What we’ve got is a system failing on all counts.”
The industrial action is also targeted at budget cuts in the department, the casualisation of the workforce, and an ongoing bargaining dispute.
Ms Newman said the robo-debt debacle is the direct result of continual budget and staff cuts and a desire to raise further revenue through the digital system.
“We have seen staff cuts that have had significant impacts on the standard of service delivered, and the debt management crisis is a symptom of that,” she said.
“To resource that with their declining staff numbers, they’ve designed a system that removes the mandatory oversight of experienced staff at every turn,” Ms Newman said.
“What we’re seeing are predictable outcomes and distress of a system that instead of the government and department being fairly confident that there is a debt and being able to prove this, the onus has been reversed to customers so they need to prove there isn’t a debt.”
The Department of Human Services has been contacted for comment.
The CPSU has previously raised concerns over a “perfect storm brewing in Centrelink” due to the robo-debt crisis, budget cuts and the reduced workforce, saying employees were “desperately overstretched”.
The planned strike action follows a series of nationwide protests last week over the Centrelink debacle organised by the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union.
Hundreds of protesters marched in Melbourne calling for the debt recovery system to be scrapped and for the ministers presiding over it to be sacked.
“What we’re seeing with this Centrelink debt debacle is the human cost of appalling public policy,” CPSU deputy national president Rupert Evans said at the protest.
“It’s just a disgraceful situation that people are facing.”