CHILD case workers have walked off the job protesting staff shortages they say endanger lives.
Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) social workers from offices in Tamworth, Armidale, Glen Innes, Narrabri and Inverell stopped work for one hour yesterday as part of a state-wide day of action on the issue organised by the Public Service Association (PSA).
PSA regional spokesman Steve Meares said the striking workers were demanding to know why Community Services Minister Pru Goward continued to starve their department.
“Staff are protesting over the minister’s lack of response to their questions on staffing numbers,” he said.
“She’s said there’s no shortfall, the numbers are good ... and we know that she’s budgeted for 2100 positions, but just barely over 1800 are actually filled.
“Certainly that’s not what she’s been telling the media or the general public.”
Ms Goward has consistently claimed there are more than 2000 case workers, but reports last week revealed NSW was short about 270.
That meant about 2500 children weren’t being monitored, Mr Meares said.
“They’re still saying only one in four children are being seen, so we’re a long way off even a minimum requirement for protecting children,” he said.
“Pru said, ‘well, to see all the kids we’d need an army’. Well, put one on.
“We’re talking about really vulnerable people here. You don’t get classified at risk of serious harm for no reason,” he said.
Increased pressure on remaining case workers is compounding the issue, with one-third of claims for workers’ compensation by FACS staff the result of psychological damage.
“I’ve got a number of staff across the region that are really stressed, they’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth to their positions,” Mr Meares said.
“People are getting disciplined; there are performance management issues now because they can’t keep up with the workloads they’re given.
“It’s a vicious cycle; we’re losing more staff than they’re employing.”
It’s the second time in less than a month case workers in Tamworth have staged walkouts. Mr Meares said they would continue their industrial campaign until they learned the truth about the number of vacancies, but didn’t say what form future action would take.