Public sector staff cuts exact mental health toll

by HCA29 Jul 2013

Continued cuts in frontline services could lead to a flood of workplace psychological injuries as staff bear the brunt of increased workloads and customer anger.

The Commonwealth’s largest department, Human Services, which administers Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support, is most at risk, said CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood.

“Under-resourced staff are copping increased levels of abuse and aggression from customers who are frustrated at having to wait so long,” said Flood, who will address the issue of the cost of dealing with workplace psychological injuries in a keynote speech today (Monday 29 July) in Sydney.

In the last three years Human Services has shed 4,100 staff and yet in Centrelink alone staff are answering a million extra calls a year.

The World Health Organization predicts depression will be the number one cause of disability in both the developed and developing worlds by 2030 and, according to a study by the University of Queensland and Beyondblue, mental illness already results in a loss of $2.7bn in employee productivity in Australia each year.

“We are hearing of more cases of members undergoing severe anxiety and stress because they are subject to these torrents of abuse,” said Flood. “Staff cuts mean there are fewer people doing more work and the pressure by staff at the coalface is intensifying.” 

“Human Services staff are on the frontline every day and they are often doing difficult and demanding work that affects their mental health. Roles are not being replaced and yet the work keeps piling on. The continued rise in customer aggression and abuse towards staff only exacerbates the situation.”


Key points:

  • A 37% rise to 7,118 recorded incidents of aggressive and abusive behaviour towards DHS staff in 2012.
  • Almost 55% of customer aggression cases in DHS result in a psychological injury.
  • In three years there has been a 30% rise in the number of psychological injury claims.
  • Psychological injury claims account for 12% of all claims and 32% of the total cost.



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