Wollongong Centrelink jobs to go by year’s end

Twenty-two Illawarra Centrelink workers will be without a job by Christmas.

The workers, based at Wollongong’s Centrelink office, were among about 80 staff across the country told last week they would no longer had a job.

However, Human Services Minister Michael Keenan’s office denied the jobs were being cut, saying the positions were 12-month contracts and never meant to be ongoing roles.

All affected workers – based at various locations – are employed in the department’s debt management branch, where they had previously believed more recruitment was on the cards due to the heavy workload.

While the staff were on contracts, it’s understood they had been on similar contracts for a number of years at the department.

The workers’ current contracts will not be renewed beyond their November expiry date.

Illawarra Labor MPs – who described the workers’ termination as job cuts – said the decision added insult to injury, given the recent closure of the Centrelink office at Warrawong.

“We’ve been fighting that government decision, they [the Department of Human Services] have proceeded with the closure of that office and then today [Monday], to add insult to injury, we learn that we’re losing more workers from our local workforce,” Cunningham MP Sharon Bird said.

Labor’s federal spokesman for human services Ed Husic said the affected workers were the “last line of defence against an error-prone robo-debt system, where people saw massive debt notices land on their front door”.

“By losing these staff, we lose people who are experienced and able to intervene to stop these types of mistakes from occurring,” Mr Husic said.

A spokesman for Mr Keenan said the Coalition had increased the department’s workforce, including its Illawarra-based positions.

“The Labor Party has no credibility when it comes to staffing, given they ripped more than 4,800 jobs from the Department of Human Services when they were last in office,” the spokesman said.

“In contrast, the Coalition government has increased the department’s overall workforce this year by more than 1800 staff, providing a significant boost to its service delivery capabilities.”

A Department of Human Services spokesman said it was normal practice for non-ongoing staff members to work for short terms.

“It is not unusual for the department’s staffing levels to fluctuate depending on budgets, business and government requirements, and demand,” the spokesman said.

The department did not respond to questions about how work done by the staff would be continued, but the main public sector union and Labor MPs fear the work will go to labour hire staff.

- with Sally Whyte