Originally posted to Melbourne Indymedia.
Socialist Alliance organised a protest meeting outside Moreland Centrelink at lunchtime today to highlight and condemn the Howard government’s staff cuts and their effects on both staff and especially pensioners. About 40 people attended (including staff resisting management pressure – obviously none were able to address the meeting), plus passers-by who stopped to take leaflets. As Moreland Mayor Anthony Helou pointed out, Moreland has a particularly high number of both students and elderly people, both groups heavily involved with Centrelink. With the threatened closure of the Fitzroy office, pressure on resources at Moreland can only grow.
From a media release:
Cut the queues – Cut the stress
More staff now
Friday, July 9, at noon
Moreland Centrelink, Moreland Rd, Brunswick
near the corner of Sydney Rd (tram #19)
David Glanz, Socialist Alliance candidate for Wills
Kelvin Thomson, MP for Wills
Anthony Helou, mayor of Moreland Council
The staff cuts at Moreland Centrelink are having a devastating effect on the lives of people on both sides of the counter. At a national level, 5000 Centrelink jobs have been slashed by the Howard government since 1998. They now plan to cut a further 2125 staff. What this means at Moreland Centrelink is:
- Longer waiting times for payment. People who applied for the Age Pension and the Disability Support Pension in January are still waiting to have their claims assessed.
- Longer waiting times when you go into the office. If you are seen within an hour count yourself lucky. Some people are waiting that long in the queue, and then have to wait another hour or two to be seen.
- Poorer service. The remaining staff in the office are so stretched that they don’t have the time to sit down and properly talk through all the things you need to know about your entitlements and payments.
- Higher stress levels. The health of the remaining staff at Moreland has become an Occupational Health and Safety concern, due to these workload pressures. Some pension staff were recently blamed by Centrelink management for the delays to payments, rather than blaming the cutbacks.
There has been an increase in abusive incidents occurring in the office due to higher levels of frustration from customers. Union members at Moreland Centrelink threatened industrial action unless management backed off scapegoating the pensions staff. They are continuing to campaign around unrealistic workloads and lack of staff.
Kelvin Thomson, the local Labor MP has raised his concern of staff cuts in federal parliament recently – only to be told that there were none!
David Glanz, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Wills in the upcoming federal election, is supporting these calls for action.
A community rally is being organised by the Socialist Alliance outside the Moreland Centrelink office to demand the Liberal Government treats Age Pensioners and the thousands of other people who use Centrelink services with at least the same level of decency Howard treats his business and military mates.
The protest meeting was called by Socialist Alliance, and was obviously part of candidate David Glanz’s campaign to take Wills away from Kelvin Thomson, but the Greens and the ALP were there too, and every bit as emphatic in their condemnation of the Howard government’s welfare policies. Moreland Mayor Anthony Helou began proceedings by attempting to make an enquiry on the Centrelink pensions number using a mobile phone – his advice, don’t (you’ll be on hold for a LONG time…). Staff positions at Moreland remain unfilled, and the backlog of pension applications is horrendous – apparently the policy is to leave the longer-standing cases for last in order to massage the stats – but management were able to lay on security staff for the day and lock the front door. And there were plenty of police to protect the speakers from frustrated Centrelink customers – not something the staff can normally rely on, it seems.