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Government launches bid to stop Centrelink staff strike

10 February 2017
Christopher Knaus
The Guardian

The government is attempting to stymie plans by Department of Human Services staff to strike next week, arguing the protests are purely designed to pressure the ministers over its automated debt recovery system.

The strikes, announced on Monday, are designed to protest against job cuts, the protracted enterprise agreement negotiations, and problems with the automated debt recovery system.

The Department of Human Services has now lodged an application in the Fair Work Commission attempting to halt the planned strike action.

The department said the industrial action had nothing to do with enterprise bargaining, and was instead designed to ramp up pressure over the debt clawback system.

“The applicant alleges that the CPSU has organised the action to pressure the department and the government ... in relation to the operation of its online compliance intervention system,” the application said. 

Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the department’s claim was false, and vowed to fight the move in the Fair Work Commission. 

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The department’s debt recovery system is now the subject of two separate inquiries, initiated after serious concerns were raised about its accuracy and fairness.

The first is being conducted by the commonwealth ombudsman, and the second by the Senate’s community affairs references committee, which is expected to report back by May. 

Centrelink staff have promised to use that inquiry to expose the dysfunction of the system and the department more broadly. 

Flood said the department’s attempts to stop the protest followed a pattern of trying to “hide problems instead of fixing them”.

“Enterprise bargaining has been an absolute disaster as DHS bosses have applied the Turnbull government’s failed public sector bargaining policy,” she said.

“This Fair Work challenge is solely aimed at the symptom not the cause of this mess.”

Industrial action was to take place across six days in February, and involve Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support workers.