Helpline workers fighting private health giant

In a few weeks, about 80 women who work at Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia will find out if we are to be sacked by a Liberal government and an insurance company. 

Since the government first rolled out the service with much fanfare in 2010, specialist RDVSA counsellors have staffed 1800RESPECT – the national helpline for rape and domestic violence survivors. In August 2016, the government awarded the contract to manage and operate the phone line to Medibank Health Solutions (MHS), a large for-profit subsidiary of Medibank Private. Since then, executives at MHS have been hell bent on putting us out of our jobs. 

Earlier this year, it put our service out to tender. RDVSA is bidding to continue operating the phone line, but there are no guarantees that we will be successful. Since the process began, MHS has continually maligned the work we do so it can justify lowering the wages workers are paid to answer calls to the line. 

“Telehealth” is a growth area for the already fat private health sector. In the 2015 financial year, MHS raked in more than $500 million by running health and social services call centres. In a recent interview in the Australian, the MHS chief executive pledged to double the company’s operating profit in the next financial year. How? By taking public funding for phone-based social services, running them on the cheap and banking the balance of the funding as profit. It’s a business model built on human suffering. 

RDVSA is a fully unionised workplace, and staff want to fight. The Australian Services Union has backed the campaign to save our jobs and our service. We have also been supported by unions across the trade union movement, including the maritime union, the public transport union, the nurses, the ETU and CFMEU.

At a recent rally outside the commonwealth offices in Sydney, these unions and others joined with workers from RDVSA and staff and players from the NRL to demand that RDVSA be funded and that vital social services not be put out to private tender. 

The attacks being waged on us are part of a broader campaign to privatise the community services sector and degrade the pay and conditions of workers. The Liberals in government have so far cut $1 billion from community services. If we don’t fight them, workers will lose their livelihoods, and free high quality social services will vanish.