Staff were told on Monday and the department denies the approximately 80 people affected are having their jobs cut, because the contracts weren't ongoing. It's believed the people affected were in the Adelaide, Brisbane and Wollongong offices of the major department.
The staff members are part of the debt management branch of the department, where they had previously believed more recruitment was on the cards due to the heavy workload. While the staff were on contracts, it's understood they had been on similar contracts for a number of years at the department.
Due to the government's ongoing focus on recouping overpayments from Centrelink, the total money owed to the agency topped more than $1.2 billion in May. The government flagged savings of $300 million over three years in the budget due to ramping up debt recovery and fraud detection.
A Department of Human Services spokesman said it was normal practice for non-ongoing staff members to work for short terms.
"It is not unusual for the department’s staffing levels to fluctuate depending on budgets, business and government requirements, and demand," the spokesman said.
"The reality is the department’s overall workforce will increase this financial year thanks to the Government’s significant investment in the department’s service delivery capability."
The department did not respond to questions about how work done by the staff would be continued, but the main public sector union fears the work will go to labour hire staff.
"These experienced staff are expected to be replaced by labour hire staff, who won’t have the same experience and corporate knowledge to do the work to the required standard," Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
"Labour hire workers are paid less, with fewer rights and conditions and no job security. The increase in labour hire staff in this area has already been adding to the workload due to all the re-works because these staff don’t have the same detailed knowledge that DHS workers possess."
The union said the news the jobs wouldn't be renewed when they expire in November was "beyond farce".
"It's not only devastating for these staff, but also for the many Australians relying on Commonwealth agencies who are suffering because the Government's privatisation agenda is dragging down services to the community," Ms Donnelly said.
Labor's Human Services spokesman Ed Husic said the move continued a pattern.
"The Abbott Turnbull Morrison Government axed 2,500 experienced Centrelink staff over the last few years, outsourcing jobs to labour hire firms," he said.
"Now they’re at it again, and it’s Centrelink clients – older Australians, students, carers – who will pay the price. From the robo-debt debacle, to frustrating Centrelink wait times – the Coalition government’s job cuts are making it more difficult for Australians to contact and access Centrelink.”