Union says 100 jobs on line if court collections officers work from home
One hundred jobs could go in courts across New Zealand in a potentially groundbreaking restructure which would see collections officers working from home rather than the office.
The Public Service Association is “highly concerned” at the proposal which it says will mean specialist collections counters at all of the 27 courts that still have them in New Zealand will close.
The Ministry of Justice says those wanting to pay fines money will still be able to go to a court but the PSA says the added work could put untrained regular court staff into stressful and potential dangerous situations.
General manager of collections Bryre Patchell said the proposal, which had yet to be confirmed, built on the success of a pilot programme rolled out around the country two years ago to test the practicality of having collections officers work from home.
At the moment most collections officers work in local district courts. In smaller towns where there is no stand-alone workers other court staff already do it on their behalf.
There are also two call centres – one in Wellington and one in Auckland – where staff make and receive phone calls relating to fines payment, and data-match with other agencies to find fines defaulters.
Patchell said an independent evaluation of the pilot found staff did not have to be in a court building or an office to perform at their best.
When they were working from home they had better work life balance and were happier, he said.
“People found it easier to focus, which resulted in them feeling more engaged and being more productive,” Patchell said.
Regardless of any change people would still be able to pay their fines on the phone, online or in person at a Westpac branch and at a court building, he said.
PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk said she understood 100 jobs would go in the proposal, leaving just eight full-time managers as the only ones in collections still working at a courthouse.
“With the closure of specialist counters, court staff will be expected to do collections registry officers’ jobs as well as their own,” Polaczuk said.
“Specialised knowledge and skills will be lost.
“Members are already dealing with significant workloads and this extra work will add to their stress levels.
“They will also need to undertake considerable extra training on collections legislation. Court staff will also be expected to collect reparations and there may potentially be impacts on victims of crime.”
The cost of setting up a secure computer system for those working from home and the flow on effects of added workload to courts could cause problems, Polaczuk said.
“The PSA’s yet to get answers from the ministry about how this will be managed.
“People who visit court to pay fines will have to wait alongside other members of the public and face potentially long wait times.
“This understandably leads to high levels of anxiety and aggravation.
“Court staff are entitled to work in a safe workplace, and the ministry must do everything it can to ensure their safety.”
Labour courts spokeswoman Louisa Wall said it was concerning that there was potential for job losses in a unit that had achieved great things for the government in recent years.
In 2008/09 $807 million in fines were owed to the court but when a new operating model built on new technology and easier ways of paying was introduced in October 2011 the amount owed dropped sharply to just $555m by 2013.
“I’m not opposed to using technology and if it makes more sense for people to work from home then that’s fine,” Wall said.
“But what I wouldn’t like to see is any staff lose their jobs when quite clearly what these staff have been doing recently has been working well.”