Acting national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) Michael Tull has asked the Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge to meet with union members employed at the Department of Human Services (DHS), to discuss why Centrelink's automated debt recovery process is causing "extraordinary" stress in staff.
"The debt crisis is a manifestation of a bigger issue for DHS -- systemic understaffing, under resourcing, and a failure to listen to staff and to draw on their expertise when designing systems," Tull said. "Our members tell us that these issues will not be solved until there is an increase in permanent and well-trained staff."
Speaking on behalf of the union representing public sector staff, Tull explained that DHS staff workload is now so unmanageable thanks to the error rate in the letters, that they do not feel they can serve their fundamental role of helping those in need.
"People work at Centrelink because they want to help -- but the systems work so badly, and DHS is so understaffed, that they simply cannot," he said. "The resulting reduction in safety for DHS workers and the public must be addressed without delay."
"There's no way this can be said to be working well."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Wednesday that the letters welfare recipients have been receiving were actually "quite appropriate", and said the government has an obligation to ensure that Australia's "very extensive and generous" social welfare system is allocated correctly.
"Centrelink has always sought to find explanations from recipients of Centrelink payments in circumstances where there is a discrepancy ... and it's quite appropriate," he said.