Long wait times at Centrelink as strike action looms

long wait times at centrelink

Long wait times to get through to Centrelink are about to get even longer as Services Australia and Centrelink face rolling strikes of up to 24 hours each.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), the union representing Centrelink staff, has received legal clearance from the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for its members to walk off the job for up to 24 hours at a time.

Centrelink staff are struggling to keep up with increased demand from Aussies struggling with the cost of living. The CPSU is demanding a 20 per cent pay rise for Centrelink staff, with the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) counter offering with a 10.5 per cent increase.

Lower staff levels after the pandemic and a decreased budget are also part of the problem, coupled with millions of Australians opting to call Centrelink instead of using digital means.

Last financial year, Centrelink fielded more than six million calls between July and March, with customers waiting an average of 31 minutes and 24 seconds before being answered.

This is up almost seven minutes from 24 minutes and 45 seconds in the previous financial year.

The APSC offer has been rejected by union members and now a vote has been put to them for “an unlimited number of stoppages of work for periods of between one hour and up to and including 24 hours”.

The CPSU action will also include what it calls an ‘auxiliary code ban’ on codes used by Services Australia. Under the ban, Centrelink staff will not enter prescribed codes that allow management to track the tasks individual employees are performing at any given time.

The union says the code ban will not affect frontline services, only internal management systems.

CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly says the federal government made public sector wage growth an election promise – one it has so far failed to fulfil.

“The Albanese Labor government was elected on a platform of getting wages moving but pay proposals to date are falling short of this commitment,” she says.

“Our members are adamant that they will not settle for the current unambitious pay proposals.

“As a result, CPSU members in Services Australia will be exercising their right to take protected industrial action this week, with support from their colleagues across the APS.”

Services Australia head Hank Jongen told the Australian Financial Review his agency was “prepared for this action and there will be no disruption to customer service or payments”.

“Staff will continue serving customers, answering calls and completing work as usual,” he said.

“Most of our contacts occur online, with about 90 per cent arriving via digital channels and around 10 per cent in service centres or over the phone,” a Services Australia spokesperson told YourLifeChoices.

“This time of year is also typically very busy, and we’re also managing increased demand due to a range of policy changes.

A Services Australia spokesperson reiterated to YourLifeChoices that customers can use the MyGov app, online services, phone self-service or our other mobile apps. 

“We also know older Australians want options when it comes to doing their business with us, and that’s why we’re investing in digital and self-service phone options, as well as face-to-face support such as our Aged Care Specialist Officers,” the spokesperson added.

“We now also have digital coaches who can provide in-person support to increase confidence using our online services.”

Older Australians experiencing longer than usual wait times can find assistance here:

When was the last time you needed to call Centrelink? How long did you have to wait? Let us know in the comments section below

Also read: Why the opposition wants to cancel $56 JobSeeker increase

Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

10 Comments

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  1. I thought we address this matter last week. I totally agree with the Oppositions view and Definitely NO Increase to the Job Seeker Program. In fact I believe it should be reduced significantly. More jobs on offer than you can shake a stick at and nobody wishing to take them up. The word Bludger comes to mind. So what does the Government do, unnecessarily increases Immigration to fill the positions that should be filled by the Great Australian Bludgers, of which there is no lack these days. Why would they want to work when the Government is throwing hard-earned Taxpayers’ money at every no-hoper who wants to sit on his back side and do nothing. It’s a disgrace. Jacka.

  2. I try to avoid centrelink as much as possible as they usually frustrate me and/or make me cry. I wish they would just separate out the care of older Aussies and Medicare again. They treat us like criminals trying to get money to which we are not entitled and their attitude sucks.

  3. I don’t know where the wait time numbers come from. I deal with Centrelink daily as part of my service offering and to get through in 25 minutes is like no wait at all. It is usually in excess of an hour, often 75-90 minutes. Often, I can’t even get into the queue, it is full.

    As for their salary demands, before starting my consultancy I worked for a contractor who provided call centre services to Services Australia and, on average, we were paid around $25,000 p.a. less than the equivalent job within the departments. Now they want $15-20k more?

    The staff on the phone are always very good. The staff in the Service Centres are always very good. Any customer facing role in this sector is always challenging and they do it well. I think sometimes though, these public sector workers need to look at salaries in the private world for similar jobs before getting too worked up.

  4. So many doing it had,Centerlink are failing people with approval times for claims blowing out by up to 12 weeks.
    People are now turning to shoplifting and crime more than ever just to survive as they have no or little money.
    It is a shame the government can give millions in foreign aid but forget the unfortunate and homeless in there own country.

  5. Has Hank Jongen actually tried to call Centrelink lately? People are saying they are placed on hold for hours, then hung up on. This is what working from home does, no one actually working just put you on hold while they take the kids to school, get breakfast, lunch and then dinner ready. All out shopping or sitting at Cafe’s sipping their Latte’s.

  6. What a joke. Try calling the Older Australian Line. I wanted to book an appointment, which you CANNOT do online, call the 132 200 number, press this number then this number press that number finally get a recording saying that all the operators are busy and call back latter then get hung up on. Call back and this time get a recording saying that they know that I have been trying to contact them, call back latter and get hung up on again straight away. Waited 10 minutes same thing happened. Ok used a different mobile number same thing happened, get all the way through to “all there operators are busy”. and the cycle repeats.
    My questions are, why is Centrelink capturing phone numbers? it seems to me that is the only way they know you have called them multiple times within a certain time period and why can you not make a booking to see someone Online in this day and age. You have to go into Centrelink to book an appointment because you cannot do it by phone because you can’t get through. Come on Centrelink pick up your game.
    This is not aimed at the front line staff and management. How they are told to do things or how their systems are designed, comes from the upper management sitting in their Ivory Towers.
    Rant over.

  7. I have tried so many times to call Centrelink and no-one knows anything about the Home Equity Loan Scheme. One person I spoke to actually said ‘what’s that?’ I then road my bike to the local Centrelink office, and was stunned when they told me I had to leave my expensive cycling helmet outside. Told me it could be used as a weapon! I looked around – there were people with walking sticks, one lady with an umbrella, 2 prams stacked with kids stuff. People carrying water bottles – they could be easily used as a weapon! The irony was that only the day before I had received a parcel with my new helmet as my previous helmet had been stolen. So I left.

  8. I work part-time, so need to advise Centrelink my fortnightly income. Best thing I ever did was to download the Centrelink app on to my phone. Usual time to make my report? Under 60 seconds!
    On the rare occasions when I have needed to actually call into a branch, I have found the branch staff exceptionally helpful and friendly, but often battling the same Canberra brick wall I was facing. Please don’t abuse the local staff, they are doing their best.

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