Services Australia will gain an extra 5000 workers to help deliver new support measures for disadvantaged Australians during COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the boost in staff numbers on Sunday, as part of the government’s second stimulus package worth $66 billion.
The extra workers will help deliver new government measures revealed in the package, including a temporary coronavirus supplement for welfare recipients who will lose their jobs over the coming months, as non-essential services shut down across the country in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Community and Public Sector Union has called on the government to ensure that all new Services Australia staff are Australian Public Service employees, and are engaged on an ongoing basis.
CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said Services Australia employees are understaffed and overworked “at the best of times”, and are now “critical” to the national response to COVID-19.
“Now is not the time for the government to outsource its responsibility. It is essential that the 5000 new Services Australia staff be APS employees and for the long-term. This will ensure that there is no double handling or delays at this critical time,” she said on Sunday.
“All the evidence indicates that it will take a long time to recover from this pandemic and Services Australia needs the ongoing staffing and resources to be able to help people through this extended period.”
More than 3823 Services Australia and Centrelink jobs have been cut since the Liberal National government was elected in 2013, according to the CPSU. Donnelly noted up to 55 million calls to Services Australia go unanswered every year due to the staff cuts and increased outsourcing of essential services.
“Our members are ready and willing to help Australians affected by COVID-19, but we cannot pretend it is business as usual,” she said.
“We are already seeing large scale stand downs and our members are telling us that the spike in the number of people needing help has already started.”
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She argued the government must closely monitor the workloads of government entities which are critical to the national COVID-19 response, including Centrelink, the Department of Health, the Department of Home Affairs, the Agriculture department, and the Australian Tax Office.
The union also demanded the government protect the 23,000 labour hire and contractors who are not supported if they become affected by COVID-19.