Union call to protect
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has called for an increase in efforts to a stop what it claims is a rising number of attacks on Centrelink and Medicare staff.
staff in firing line
Deputy National President of the CPSU, Lisa Newman said that the union was set to raise with the Government the issue of how to confront the increasing number of incidents of abuse and physical threats directed towards staff.
She said customer aggression in service centres was at an all-time high according to official statistics which showed there were 5,900 reported aggressive incidents towards Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support Agency staff in the 2011-12 financial year – 400 more than the previous year.
She said the union would call on the Department of Human Services to increase its staff in centres to cut waiting times and so relieve bottlenecks within reception areas that staff say were flashpoints for trouble.
Ms Newman said that there was a clear link between staff cuts and a rise in violence and abuse.
“Over the past two years as part of Government cutbacks and consolidation of services, the number of Department of Human Services jobs has fallen from around 41,000 to 36,000 – a fall of 12 per cent,” she said.
“Yet they are doing more work - staff levels had remained the same as they were a decade ago but call volumes had increased by 63 per cent, an extra 14.7 million a year.
“People are being forced to wait longer to get served, which is causing these bottlenecks in service centres as customers mill around waiting their turn.”
She said that this had led to frustration and to arguments, abuse being directed at staff or even fights breaking out between clients.
Ms Newman said staff had been spat on, head-butted, punched, had phones thrown at them and had even received death threats.
“The Department has a duty of care to protect its staff as well as those people who come into the centres for a range of services,” she said.
“We are calling upon the Government to increase staffing levels to reduce waiting times, and to agree to review the physical environment of these centres to ensure they are as safe as they are welcoming,” she said.
Ms Newman said the CPSU was also calling on the Department to put staff in busy centres who were qualified to identify “high needs” customers requiring immediate assistance.
“Even something as basic as the introduction of signage in centres asking customers to be respectful towards staff has been delayed,” she said.
“We will be asking them about that too,” Ms Newman said.
Edition 342F, 7 December 2012