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Human Services brings on Telstra for call centre work

The Australian Department of Human Services is bringing in 200 Telstra call centre staff members to handle high-volume transactions for Medicare and Centrelink.

The Australian Department of Human Services will bring on Telstra staff to handle high-volume transactions, but has denied claims that the telco giant is taking over Centrelink and Medicare call centre services.

The Community and Public Sector Union has said that staff were informed yesterday that the Department of Human Services has entered into a contract with Telstra for 200 staff members to handle calls for Centrelink and Medicare from the end of October.

The union said the outsourcing threatens 7,000 jobs across 28 locations in Australia.

National secretary Nadine Flood said that the government is already moving to outsource services as recommended by the Commission of Audit.

"Human Services workers handle everything from your gran's pension, your own medical records, as well as provide vital support in times of emergencies such as drought or bush fires. The work is too important to outsource, and most Australians would be appalled to hear that their records might be sent offshore," Flood said.

But the department said that Telstra staff members are being brought on to complement the existing workforce, and are being sourced through the department's existing managed telecommunications service contract with Telstra.

"Partnering is not a new concept for the department or government. In the past, we have accessed similar provisions within other contracts to engage staff as required to meet demand," department general manager Hank Jongen said.

"It is proposed that Telstra would deliver the services from departmental premises in ACT/Queanbeyan and Bunbury. Telstra may engage with a third party for delivery of these services, and, if so, this would also be from our premises. Claims this work would be sent offshore are completely wrong."

Jongen said Telstra workers would be focused on "general, high-volume transactions" such as requests for Medicare cards, appointment bookings, and general inquiries.

"The bulk of these transactions are already being completed online or are in the transition phase, but there remains a need to have staff available to handle these queries until the new processes are fully in place," Jongen said.

"By managing the work this way, our skilled staff would be able to focus on complex customer enquiries."

The use of Telstra's services by the department comes as it is also scoping out the possibility of outsourcing the Human Services payments processing system.