Contributed by Jim Hayes
The government refuses to make public a report by KPMG on the effectiveness of contracting out the Centrelink telephone service so far. At the same time, it insists that this has been effective, by reducing costs and providing a better service.
If the news is good, it is strange that they won’t let the public know the details. There would be political capital in it, something the embattled government could use right now.
The absence of transparency is giving the signal that there is something to hide.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), covering whose who work at Department of Human Services and Centrelink, backed by the Labor Party and Greens have been working hard to make the report public.
Through Human Services Minister Michael Keenan, the government is resisting disclosure, on the vague grounds of “defending cabinet process.”
An initial trial took on 250 contractors through a labour hire company called Serco, and the plan is to soon expand this number to 2750, through four labour hire companies.
A survey of members on the job by the union revealed that while initial response to call times did reduce, the time spent on being transferred to others increased. An important reason is that those put on do not have the training and accumulated experience needed to deal effectively with situations that arise.
Claims of improved service do not match with the ongoing and unwritten policy, which gives priority to discouraging as many people as possible from going on benefits, and reducing the numbers that are on them.
One important piece of information going public would be whether contracts include incentives to reduce the number of people being processed. This would certainly fit in with the government’s direction to date.
It is likely that the contracting out of the telephone service is part of a policy to de-unionise the workplace.
The implication of the claims that private contractors do a better job than experienced public sector staff is a slap in the face. There have been problems. But staff have worked to do the best they can, in a system that has deliberately been made dysfunctional through the application of government policy.
The union is fighting to improve this and for the return of the work to its members.
With this and a change of policy, which puts the quality and fairness of service at the top of the list, would provide a much better deal for those w ho go to Centrelink for help.