Fact check: are Victoria’s DHHS staff being transferred to federal agencies?

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday September 25, 2019

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Thousands of staff from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services will be transferred to federal agencies as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, according to a recent article by the Ballarat Courier. Or will they?

The article states that the transition from state to federal was announced in a staff meeting last week, “catching the representative unions unaware as they prepared for the day of Climate Action on the following Friday”.

But a departmental spokesperson has told The Mandarin this was not the case. 

“I think they’ve misinterpreted what I’ve told them,” they said.

“The issue here is that by the end of October, about 5500 DHHS staff working in disability supported accommodation and respite services will be transferring to non-government services…the notion that state employed [public servants] are moving across to federal departments is not right.”

The department held an all-staff forum last week to update employees on the ongoing changes occurring as part of the NDIS. Employees already working in the disability sector would be transferred to other agencies and non-government providers, not federal agencies.

While the department would become smaller as staff relocate to rural and regional areas, those working in areas such as child protection would not be affected, the spokesperson said.

“There’s a lot of front line work that this department does in a whole range of areas. That’s not going to change,”they added.

While the large number of departing employees does require the department to “reshape and change” structurally, the progression has been gradual and “the front line stuff stays the same”.

A spokesperson from the Victorian branch of the Community and Public Sector Union confirmed that DHHS is “quite correct on this”. They also denied that the meeting had caught them off guard.

“Our coverage areas are not surprised and jobs are protected, as guaranteed by the department and the government,” they said, adding that service delivery would be undertaken for the National Disability Insurance Agency by non-government organisations, “but this has been known for years”.

Earlier this year, the Vic CPSU sent around an email about ways DHHS staff would be supported during the transition, and referred to a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the department and the union.

According to the email, DHHS had established the career support service CareerPlus, introduced an “internal first” approach to recruitment, and established a whole of department Career Mobility Pool in consultation with the union. These measures would help staff “determine what their transferrable skills are, upskill, try new things and find new jobs within DHHS or across other parts of the public service and public sector”. 

“CPSU sees this as a practical mechanism for the department to facilitate ongoing employment of the department’s current workforce given its need to contract,” the email read.

Going back even further, DHHS Secretary Kym Peake made similar statements in an email to staff September last year.

“Last month, I updated you on the decision to transfer our disability accommodation and facility based respite services to new not-for-profit providers. As you will be aware, this transfer will commence next year with a secondment of up to two years for staff in these services, followed by the transfer of those staff to the new providers from 1 January 2021,” Peake wrote.

The email goes on to explain that those working in disability would be able to access advice and information about opportunities in the department, the wider public sector, and support for moving into new roles through the Career Plus service:

“With more than 12 months lead-time, we are committed to supporting each member of staff to identify meaningful career opportunities, close to where they live, and, where necessary, to develop new skills and capabilities relevant to securing new job opportunities,” the email noted.

“The department has established a joint committee with the CPSU that will operate during this period of change, as a forum to consult on the range of options which will available for staff. The department is also continuing to consult with HACSU [Health and Community Services Union] about the broader impact of the transfer of disability services.

“In conclusion, I want to stress again how important the work of corporate and program support staff is — and that we are very committed to making the most of the next 12 months to actively support staff that will be indirectly impacted by the transfer of disability respite and accommodation services.”

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