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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3573


Senator JESSOP(9.55) —I would just like briefly to draw the Government's attention to some of the problems faced by Commonwealth Employment Service agents in rural areas of South Australia. I think these difficulties are probably experienced generally throughout Australia by CES agents. These agents are employed in rural towns in which the Government cannot afford to set up and staff a proper CES branch. Many years ago the difficulties of these agents were brought to the attention of the Minister of the day, Mr Clyde Cameron, by the then member for Angas, Mr Geoffrey O'Halloran Giles. He pointed out that CES agents were paid according to a mathematical points system which took into account the sorts of activities they undertook in order to find people jobs. Mr Cameron graded them as clerical officers, class 4, which comprised 12 classifications. The remuneration system then was well received and was fitted to the circumstances of the mid-1970s. Today it is totally inappropriate and the Commonwealth Ombudsman agrees that it is inappropriate. These CES agents are finding themselves working twice the number of hours for half the pay and they are out of pocket in some cases because they are not repaid for expenses such as rates on offices, rents on telephones, workers compensation, holiday pay, or sickness or long service leave for any people that they might have to employ to carry out the CES work.

These agents provide an invaluable service to the unemployed. Their contract states that the agent's offices should be open from 8.45 a.m. until 5 p.m. and most are closed for an hour during lunch. At the maximum rate under category 12 agents are paid for about 26 hours work per week. During the busy season in the Riverland and other fruit growing areas in South Australia these agents are working for the CES for more than twice this number of hours. But there is no provision for them to be paid for the extra hours that they put in. These agents also have to run their own businesses at the same time. Recently, one agent interviewed over 100 people in a day. These agents are also committed to taking their CES work home at nights and at weekends in order to keep ahead. Phone calls associated with the CES are also received at weekends.

Changing circumstances have made the grades, classifications and remuneration for these CES agents outmoded. These agents do excellent work in finding jobs for the unemployed in their region. They have a good rapport with local businesses because they are involved in business themselves and they usually have their ears to the ground as far as the availability of jobs is concerned. I am convinced that their payment is very poor and that an agent who works hard at his CES work is disadvantaged because he is not provided with a suitable monetary reward.

I ask the Government and the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) who is in the chamber, to alert the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) to the difficulties that are being experienced by these grants, particularly as this is a very busy time of the year for them. They are conscientious but they feel that the Government is only using them. It must be recognised that it would cost the Government a lot more money to establish and staff proper CES offices in these country areas which are serviced by such agents. These people have written to the Minister, Mr Willis but, after putting up with these problems for years, they are becoming angry when all the Minister can say is that the Department is reviewing the issue. I request the Government to give this matter some urgent consideration.