7 December 2022

Hundreds of APS staff at Services Australia left with nothing to do after contractor layoffs

| Chris Johnson
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Services Australia has been rocked by the backlash to the mass layoffs and the flow-on effects for permanent staff. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Services Australia is in a world of pain.

Contractors are being shown the door and many permanent staff have been left to twiddle their thumbs with nothing to do while waiting to be assigned new tasks.

As Region reported last week, a number of the agency’s ICT contracts are being terminated, leaving about 1000 contractors out of work at Christmastime.

“The contracts were for the provision of specialist ICT expertise to support Services Australia’s response to the COVID pandemic and the delivery of major projects such as the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation and the Residential Aged Care Funding Reform,” Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said at the time.

“These projects have now come to an end.”

But there are almost 200 permanent staff working on these same projects who, while still in work, now have no idea what their job is.

READ ALSO Services Australia lays off hundreds of contractors before Christmas

Many claim some of these cancelled projects were nowhere near finished, with staff and contractors being pulled from them mid-task.

Permanent employees are being told they will return to their home teams, but there have been no details about the roles they will fill and what projects they will be working on.

“It’s so frustrating because I had work to do and now I don’t,” one employee told Region.

Another described the situation for these employees as a “holding pattern” with “uncertainty the only certainty”.

Some staff may be offered roles in other agencies, but others could spend months starting and finishing work each day with little or nothing at all to do.

READ ALSO Public Service Minister is stealing Canberra’s Christmas

While Services Australia’s management talks about adaptability and flexibility, the agency has been rocked by the backlash to the mass layoffs and the flow-on effects for permanent staff.

Shadow government services minister Paul Fletcher said the contractors were involved in important landmark projects, and customer service will be where the impact is felt now those projects have ended.

“Losing these tech jobs means a missed opportunity to improve the digital service experience of Australians who are transacting with Centrelink and Medicare,” he said.

“This hit to digital service delivery is revealing. The Albanese Labor government is shifting resources away from more efficient and customer-friendly digital service delivery to the paper-based over-the-counter work modes of the past.”

But the push is on across the Australian Public Service to end the reliance on contractors, even if it means ending projects early.

Finance Minister and Minister for the Public Service Katy Gallagher is on a mission to reform the APS and save money.

Some contractors are being offered work if they leave their consultancy firms to take up lower-paying roles directly employed by the APS.

The flow-on impact is also being felt across the ACT business community at what should be the busiest time of the year for retail and hospitality outlets.

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I’d have thought if the reason was actually due to the projects being completed as planned, then the department would have been planning for months on what the permanent staff working on them should be doing after completion. Surely they don’t wait till the project is finished then wonder what to do with them? Please tell me these departments are managed more competently than that.

Leon Arundell4:47 pm 08 Dec 22

Mr Jongen could assign some staff to fixing a problem that over many years has caused an unknown number of Centrelink applications to be rejected. with no explanation other than “Something’s gone wrong. Please try again,” each time they follow the instructions for uploading documents.

So nothing’s changed then

Agreed. They keep reinventing the wheel and nothing changes.

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