IT is feared up to 70 staff face losing their jobs at Gippsland's education department in coming months as part of what one insider called the "biggest slash and burn" of jobs by the State Government since the Kennett era.
Fears were expressed by some Moe-based Department of Education and Early Childhood Development workers this week that the regional department could be left with as few as "four or five" employees manning little more than a shop-front. In response a spokesperson for State Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall said the minister would not comment on what was "purely a departmental matter".
A DEECD spokesperson said the department was still consulting with employees about the proposed structure of the department" and no decisions had been made about staff numbers. The spokesperson did not move to deny claims by local workers that the regional office was to be all but dismantled and centralised to Dandenong.
The spokesperson said the "consultation process" had been "open" and staff feedback was "currently being considered before the department finalises its structure in coming weeks". However one insider confirmed claims by the Community Public Sector Union that no Melbourne-based departmental staff had visited the Gippsland region during their consideration of proposed merger options for DEECD regions across the state.
CPSU organiser Nick Church told The Express it was clear, despite no formal State Government announcements yet, that DEECD's nine Victorian regions would be "collapsed to four" and Gippsland would be forced to merge with Southern Metro, creating "a new super region... all run from Dandenong".
Mr Church said there was a known proposal to cut local staff numbers by 50 per cent but "absolutely it is our fear there will end up being nothing more than a skeleton staff left there" and it "wouldn't surprise me" if there were as few as four staffers left on-site, "meaning Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley cannot be properly represented".
"We know there will be 950 jobs cut from the education department across the state," he added.
Mr Church, State Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney and an insider who spoke with The Express all accused the State Government of imposing mass job losses "by stealth" and called for the government to "come clean" on its plans.
Mr Church said local workers were suffering "considerable fear and anxiety" but were tied to a "code of ethics" while "still on the payroll" preventing them from speaking out.
Mr Viney said the State Government needed to "come clean" and "end the uncertainty" plaguing "not just staff but parents of students, particularly those who are disadvantaged or have disabilities, who are very reliant on the support services (that will be lost)".
"The government has said its reductions won't affect front-line staff, " Mr Viney said.
"Are they suggesting support workers providing services to students with disabilities are not frontline?"
He said a range of welfare-focused services would be lost to the region, "and, in an area like the Latrobe Valley, these provide critical support to children... they are messing with kids' long-term futures and treating the Latrobe Valley with contempt."
Mr Church agreed "the government will say this is not frontline but when you cut office roles then those on the frontline have to do those administrative tasks, so by stealth it is affecting frontline services".
Warning early childhood programs including Reading Recovery would be lost to Gippsland, Mr Church said "if that's not front-line then I don't know what is".
"They are playing with people's livelihoods and the essential services that the community deserves."
One insider said he expected many local jobs would be gone by December "and then they will target the rest".
"The government might say some of these workers can be redeployed to Dandenong but, really, how many are going to be able to travel to Dandenong and imagine the competition for those jobs if so many regions have been merged," he said.
"I am worried about how this is going to affect businesses in Moe, including the retail sector who rely on the patronage of those workers," he added.
The source also predicted the loss of key support staff in the Valley would "see a lot more teachers and principals taking stress leave because they don't have the support they have been able to access in sorting out problems."
Over past months State Government MPs have maintained the Moe DEECD office did not face closure.
"That may be the case but it will barely be staffed," one source claimed.
"This is the biggest 'slash and burn' since Kennett but at least Kennett made some noise about it, (Premier Ted) Ballieu is doing it all by stealth."
Mr Church said a community rally would be held in Traralgon on 18 November to protest "against all cuts to the public service in Gippsland".