15 February 2024

Services Australia boss dumps on 'time fraud' for toilet break claims

| Chris Johnson
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Services Australia has been questioned in Senate Estimates about staff taking toilet breaks. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Services Australia has denied clocking staff toilet breaks and making a big deal if they take longer than five minutes.

During Senate Estimates hearings this week, ACT independent Senator David Pocock grilled Services Australia bosses over reports he’d received that staff were being disciplined for ‘time fraud’ for taking too long while in the bathroom.

“You’ve got people doing their training on their lunch break to try and make up for a few minutes,” the Senator said.

“How is it acceptable to use someone’s minutes that they take on a toilet break over five minutes to put that on a whiteboard and publicly humiliate people in your agency?”

But the agency’s deputy CEO of customer service, Jarrod Howard, denied the practice was taking place.

Describing it as a myth, Mr Howard said staff had to enter codes when leaving their desks at call centres to divert phone calls.

“We have done a lot of work to bust what I say is a myth,” he said.

“It is not acceptable and I’m not aware of it happening.

“There will be times where staff will be coached by their team leader about the fact they may have been in an auxiliary code for longer than what is expected.

“If they are utilising reasonable time to go to the toilet, that is not something we are going to have a code of conduct breach for.”

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He said he would investigate the reports but added there was no way of knowing if a staff member was going to the toilet or how long they were there unless they asked them.

“There will be times where staff will be coached by their team leader around the fact that they might have been in auxiliary code for longer than what is expected,” Mr Howard said.

“But those conversations are standard practice across not just the service delivery environment, but a number of environments where a staff member might not be where they’re supposed to be and their supervisor is asking questions about it.”

Reports of the culture at Services Australia included staff names being written on whiteboards if they have been on toilet breaks for too long.

Staff have described various ‘shaming’ practices being used as a tactic to make people stick to five-minute breaks and only one per hour.

Mr Howard admitted that a ‘dashboard’ for ‘non-adherence’ existed but was not used for toilet breaks.

Services Australia’s new chief executive officer David Hazlehurst said he would investigate reports of shaming over toilet breaks.

“If that’s happening, it’s unacceptable,” he said.

“It’s certainly not our policy to approach it in that way.

“I’m happy to give you my undertaking that we will continue to look into this and create an ongoing positive culture about how we manage staff.”

Senator Pocock said he was stunned to hear of such reports.

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The estimates committee also heard that call waiting times for Services Australia’s clients were still taking far too long.

Average wait times for Centrelink employment and disability services was more than 46 minutes.

The longest call wait time for Centrelink clocked in at 52 minutes for people enquiring about parenting payments. Emergency management payment calls had an average wait time of four minutes.

The Federal Government has recently added 3000 new staff to help manage the backlogs in call centres.

“We will see across the next few months as the 3000 additional staff for the agency come online … an increase in average speed of answer across the telephones,” Mr Howard told the hearing.

“And we will see a decrease in customers waiting for their claims.”

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