If you have ever felt the frustration of being on hold with Centrelink then this is welcome news for the national welfare agency. Some people have had to wait hours on the phone, listening to classical hold music waiting for an operator to get to them.
Luckily it seems that the government is focusing on addressing this issue and has promised to hire an extra 1000 call centre workers to help reduce these waiting times.
Michael Keenan, the Human Services Minister, said that the wait time for Centrelink customers was too long and that there would need to be change. He said that he wanted to make sure that people “get the best possible serve” when calling a government agency like Centrelink.
However, the extra thousand are likely to be job outsourced to the private sector rather than hiring full-time Centrelink call centre operators. This trend of outsourcing call centres has been popular among many government departments.
As recently as last year 250 call centre staff had been sourced from multinational company Serco and it appears that Mr Keenan will follow a similar strategy. He said that “there is no reason” to think that the private sector cannot take on these jobs or do them as effectively as full time government staff.
He said that there had been “independent evaluations” that had reaffirmed that private sector staff can do the job just as well. When the contact with Serco was revealed in 2017 unions and Labor showed concern about handing private welfare information to a private company.
Mr Keenan went on to say that the ATO had been “using private companies for the past decade” and credited Labor for introducing that policy decision as a “sensible” thing they had done while in government.
Linda Burney, a Labor MP, said that privacy was still a “enormous concern” and that there was a noticeable gab in working conditions between Centrelink and private contractors. She said that this move was only “plugging a hole” that she believes will “overflow again”.
Me Keenan announced that the 1000 new call centre workers would be based in Australia and fully trained domestically. He said that no client information would ever be sent overseas.
While no concrete estimate for the contract has been announced, experts have speculated that it will cost around $200 million as least. The contract lasts for 3 years after which Mr Keenan believer the difference will be made up by most Centrelink customers using a computer rather than a phone.