Bring back JobKeeper to ease pressure on Centrelink workers, unions say

Bring back JobKeeper to ease pressure on Centrelink workers, unions say. Picture: Shutterstock
Bring back JobKeeper to ease pressure on Centrelink workers, unions say. Picture: Shutterstock

Unions are urging the federal government to loosen Covid disaster pay restrictions as Centrelink staff face "serious" workplace stress dealing with a record-breaking number of claims.

Millions of Australians around the country have been given the green light to claim disaster payments through the social service agency for lost income while tough restrictions remain in place.

The Community and Public Sector Union and the Australian Council of Trade Unions is urging the government to bring back the JobKeeper program and re-introduce remote online processing so payment recipients can steer clear of physical centres.

The public sector union national secretary Melissa Donnelly warned, unlike lockdowns last year, Centrelink staff were processing claims that would have been covered by JobKeeper.

Services Australia last week had its busiest day on record, the union said. It has processed more than 950,000 claims, totalling nearly $500 million in payments, since the lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne began.

It was also important remote processing was brought back to reduce the large queues, the unions said.

"NSW has been in lockdown for over 4 weeks, and the government has failed to act to ensure all of the community can access Services Australia remotely and quickly. NSW needs to beat this virus and forcing people into queues will not do that," Ms Donnelly said.

"Having large parts of our community front up to Centrelink in person is dangerous to workplaces and our community, and forcing visa holders on to phone calls for hours and completing multiple claims is slowing down processes.

"Centrelink and Service Australia staff have been working longer and harder through this pandemic to help the community, but the government must be willing to work just as hard."

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday the full-time rate for workers in NSW under coronavirus lockdowns will rise from $600 after a four-week extension of the lockdown in Sydney and surrounds was confirmed.

"Our measures of support are never set and forget," he said.

Part-time workers will be eligible for $450, up from $375, while welfare recipients will no longer be excluded.

People on Centrelink payments will be eligible for $200 a week if they lose more than eight hours of work.

Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds last week said people who were asked to attend a service centre to verify their identity with photo ID could do so within eight weeks of their claim.

Mr Morrison said 93 per cent of claims were being handled through the myGov website.

"We're seeing payments made within 40 minutes of that claim being undertaken - or, indeed, being paid the next day. We've put in place a system of payments that is designed to be swift," he said last week.

This story Centrelink workers stretched as Covid claims reach record numbers first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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