(Australian Associated Press)
Centrelink customers frustrated with notoriously long phone waiting times have been promised better service after the federal government significantly boosted the number of call centre staff.
Human Services Minister Michael Keenan has announced funding for an extra 1500 contractors to help the welfare agency cope with the one million calls it receives every day.
Private companies including Serco, Stellar Asia Pacific, Concentrix Services and DataCom Connect will be contracted to fill the new taxpayer-funded roles in capital cities across the country.
The new recruits will bring to 2750 the number of contractors taken on by the Department of Human Services in the past year, in lieu of employing public servants to fill the roles.
Labor is concerned the government is privatising Centrelink by stealth and fears service standards and sensitive personal information could be compromised.
However, Mr Keenan doesn’t share these concerns, saying the contractors will receive the same level of training and be under the same scrutiny as full-time employees.
He insists callers to Centrelink will not be bothered by external providers answering their calls.
“I don’t think the people who use the services are that concerned where the people are coming from who assist them, they just want the assistance,” he said on Wednesday.
“This is the quickest and easiest way to get people on board to improve the service as quickly as we can.”
The government allocated $50 million in the federal budget to slash Centrelink call waiting times.
Mr Keenan is confident the call centre staffing boost will see a “very significant” improvement.
“People will notice and are hopefully already noticing that when they call the government they’re getting a much better service than they have in the past,” he said.
Opposition human services spokeswoman Linda Burney said the government was giving with one hand and taking with the other, having axed 1280 department staff in the past year.
“The government is addicted to outsourcing and is privatising Centrelink piece-by-piece,” Ms Burney said.
“Labor is very worried about compromised service delivery, insecure working arrangements, lower wages, reduced conditions and poorer quality training.”
Centrelink’s ageing IT systems will be overhauled in coming years to make automated claims, assessments and payment processes more efficient.
“Over time, I would like people to interact on the digital channels so you can sit on your couch and do everything you need to do with the government,” Mr Keenan said.
“Whilst we undergo that transformation, I would like to ensure people still get the service experience that they need.”