news Federal Human Services Minister Marise Payne has backed away from the Government’s plans to shift some 56 IT jobs to the mainland and away from the Hobart office of the Department of Human Services, as the Liberal Party faces an increasingly difficult state election in the Apple Isle.
The plans, revealed in December, would have seen 56 IT jobs lost in the city as the Department of Human Services, one of the largest employers of IT staff in the Federal Government courtesy of the IT department of its former Centrelink division, shifted staff around the nation as part of the creation of “sustainable ICT hubs” in other areas.
Subsequently, both the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the Palmer United Party went on the attack over the issue, with the union presenting Employment Minister Eric Abetz with a 1,000-strong petition against the move and Clive Palmer slamming the decision as “a disgrace and a betrayal” by the Coalition.
In a statement released yesterday, Minister Payne revealed the jobs would stay in Tasmania following “a review of ICT operations”. “I met with staff this morning in Hobart to confirm the department will remain where it is, with no staff required to re-locate,” Payne said.
Payne said the decision came after a two month period of staff consultation regarding a proposal to relocate Hobart ICT functions to large ICT hubs in Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra. The Minister said the size and complexity of the Department’s ICT systems meant staff needed to be located in hubs where a broad range of skills and capabilities were available to draw on.
“I’m pleased that we have found a way to meet this requirement, and keep the jobs based in Hobart,” she said.
Payne reiterated staff in Hobart would continue to work in ICT. “Claims that a decision had already been made regarding these staff were not correct,” she said. “This has been an ongoing process as the department moves to meet changing business priorities. Through the consultation process, my department has identified opportunities for these staff to continue to perform roles aligned with their areas of expertise, ensuring they can stay in their hometown.”
Payne said the decision to keep the ICT team in Hobart was further proof of the Coalition’s commitment to building a stronger Tasmanian economy.
“Thanks to Labor and the Greens, Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate of any State, the lowest workforce participation rate and the lowest average weekly earnings in Australia,” Payne said. “This decision reaffirms our election promise clean up Labor’s mess and grow the Tasmanian economy after years of neglect.”
The CPSU yesterday issued a statement welcoming the decision. CPSU Regional Secretary Paul Blake said: “Today’s announcement is a victory for common sense. These are valuable, high-level jobs, done by experienced staff who until today were facing with the difficult choice of moving interstate or losing their jobs.”
“Moving these jobs would have taken $4.5 million of wages out of the state economy at a time when Tasmania desperately needs investment,” Blake said. “This outcome is the direct result of a strong community and union campaign. I’d like to thank the thousand or more public sector workers who signed our petition and everyone in the Tasmanian community who got behind this campaign. Our call was well and truly heard and we welcome this change of approach.”
However Blake warned that the decision came at a time of high pressure on the Australian Public Service.
“The public service is shrinking under this Government and there is more pain to come with the Budget and the National Commission of Audit,” he said. “We are particularly concerned that regional Australia would be hit hard by the Government’s harsh austerity policies. Today’s decision shows that it doesn’t have to be this way.”
The news comes as the Liberal Party is facing increasing amounts of pressure with regard to the Tasmanian State Election due to be held on 15 March.
Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman yesterday made the extraordinary admission that the Federal Coalition’s unpopular broadband policy using Fibre to the Node technology could cost the party the upcoming Tasmanian State Election, in the latest in a series of ongoing signs that the policy is not going down well in the island state.
Never has politics been so transparent. This move by the Department of Human Services was always a legitimate one, as I wrote late last month:
“I have sympathy for the workers concerned, especially given the poor employment situation for ICT professionals in Tasmania. I hope that they are able to find new roles. If not, I would encourage them to start their own business. I have found that a worthy alternative to employment with a major organisation. And I do support the cause of major Australian organisations keeping jobs in regional locations such as Tasmania, especially as the availability of broadband increases and we can all work remotely.
However, is this “centralisation gone mad”, as the CPSU claimed? No. The department of Human Services, according to its latest annual report, employs almost 36,000 staff. You can bet that there are several thousand staff as part of that number whose roles would touch on IT. Shifting some 56 jobs around the country is a basic and normal practice for any organisation that size and should go almost unremarked. In addition, unions have a poor history within the white collar technology space. One wonders whether the 56 workers who are set to lose their roles are definitely part of the CPSU.
This situation starkly displays the fact that unions will jump up and down over any tiny change major Australian organisations make to their workforce, even if, as is the case here, those changes impact only 0.001 percent of the workforce. The unions need to get some perspective here. At the least DHS is keeping these jobs in Australia. If this was a private sector organisation, there is no doubt that these kinds of roles would have been pushed offshore to India long ago.”
Because this issue has now become part of the election campaign, the Federal Human Services Minister has now felt the need to step directly in and issue a media release ‘saving’ the jobs of a handful of IT staff. It’s an extraordinary step and it’s impossible to imagine that this kind of thing would happen in the private sector — or indeed, that it would even be a highly publicised issue for DHS if it wasn’t election time in Tasmania.
I certainly don’t see any politicians jumping up and down to try and save the 1,000-odd staff who are reportedly set to lose their Telstra jobs in the imminent future. Or the 1,000-odd staff who are set to go from IBM. And so on.
Is it inherently a good thing that these jobs remain in Tasmania? Certainly it is for the workers concerned. But in terms of the wider DHS workforce, I would need to see the whole ICT workforce plan to determine that. Possibly the department is being disadvantaged in other ways by keeping these jobs in Hobart. It’s not clear at this point.
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