At a time when one would think it a priority to meet the needs of people out of work, the Morrison government is ultimately responsible for the cutting 420 jobs at Centrelink call centres in Melbourne.
It signed the contract with the private provider, enabling the destruction of the jobs of workers. These workers found out that they were being thrown on the scrap heap when they turned up to work on Tuesday. They were given the bad news at management meetings at the Dandenong and Mill Park centres.
The job losses take effect when the contract goes into operation on 30 October.
Since they had technically been employed as casuals, although working full time and for an extended period, there is no severance or redundancy pay.
According to the Australian Services Union, some will be offered new jobs, if they accept a lower wage, part-time employment, and a bigger workload.
So much for a government that is now claiming jobs creation as its number one priority.
Many of these workers have the added burden of having been stood down durinf the pandemic since July and without pay, given that all casual workers were denied JobKeeper.
British multinational Serco is the beneficiary of the contract. For those who don’t know, this is the same company that is notorious for its management of refugee detention centres.
In addition to its operations at Centrelink, Serco runs call centres for Australian Taxation Office and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and it runs the police assistance line call centre and operates speed cameras in Victoria.
They also supply labour for the Australian defence Force (ADF).
Back in the United Kingdom, Serco’s labour practices and cheating are notorious. It is here that all of its 50,000 workers were stripped off permanent jobs and put into casual contracts.
Serco was charged with serious fraud offences i relation to overcharging the Ministry of Justice, and made to pay a 19.2 million pound fine, plus 3.7 million more pounds for investigative costs. In another case, the company was caught using detainees as a cheap source of labour, paying them as little as 1 pound an hour.
Like in Australia, Serco manages prisons and detention centres. The company was found guilty of record falsification and overcharging the government for managing them, and ordered to pay back 68.5 million pounds.
It doesn’t stop here. Another example of wrongdoing, is that Serco has been caught mishandling nuclear weapons related radioactive waste.
Despite this track record, its connections to government and British elite are so secure, that they have been allowed to continue to operate. A good illustration of this connection is the current CEO, Rupert Soames, who happens to be the grandson Winston Churchill and has close ties to the Conservative Party.
Nonetheless, the public mood is no friend, and the British government has been pressed into promising a review of Serco’s operations.
Unfortunately, its sway over the Australian government appears to remain rock solid, suggesting vested interests and a good dose of corruption might be operating here as well.
Serco is not a fit company to be operating in Australia. There must be a thorough investigation of its operations here, and if found guilty, its contracts must be torn up.
The new Centrelink contract, like the ones before, shows that the labour practices practiced in the United Kingdom, have been imported into Australia. Perhaps its use of fraudelent documents to obtain money by deceit has as well?
Serco’s entry into Centrelink has been a part of the deterioration of the quality of service and escalation of the punishment handed out to those ending up unemployed, on a benefit, or pension.
The contract stands to take this to a new level. It provides for a narrower definition of service, where the needs of the person on the receiving end are left out, and the call centre worker, is burdened with a heavier workload.