Why our protectors are pushing themselves to the borderline


Australian Border Force officers who can be confronted by death or trauma while serving overseas are feeling pressured to work while physically or mentally unwell, to avoid losing up to 60 per cent of their pay per day, explosive leaked documents reveal.

A health and safety investigation by Comcare, the public sector's compensation authority, has heard evidence workers were not reporting psychological or physical health and safety issues because they feared losing a special seagoing allowance.

ABF officers can take up to a combined 18 days' personal, sick or long-service leave in a year, after which they lose the seagoing commuted allowance for any leave days going forward.


An Australian Border Force officer in Brisbane
An Australian Border Force officer in Brisbane

It can cost them hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on their time off.

An officer took their own life while serving in the Torres Strait in June 2019, with the CPSU fearing the person had been disincentivised to take more leave.

The Comcare report referred to reported incidents where "workers had attended work unwell due to concerns about losing the (allowance)" and that the policy was "causing workers to attend work while physically and mentally unwell".

"I reasonably believe that the current policy relating to the CMA is causing workers to attend work when they are mentally or physically unwell, creating a risk to health and safety given the hazardous nature of the work undertaken by Marine Unit workers," the Comcare inspector stated.

It called for a risk assessment of the situation and steps to be taken to address it, while the union is arguing the 18-day cap needs to be removed.

Community and Public Sector Union national deputy president Brooke Muscat said the report validated serious concerns seagoing ABF members had been raising for years.

"Workers should never have to choose between their safety and a pay check, but that is what Home Affairs want our Marine Border Force Officers to do," she said.

An Australian Border Force Bay-class vessel
An Australian Border Force Bay-class vessel

A Home Affairs spokesman said the department took the health and safety of all workers extremely seriously and had a good safety record, including having a focus on mental health.

"The department has lodged a request for internal review with Comcare in order to obtain more clarity around the findings and directions in the improvement notice," he said.

The spokesman said employees had a duty of care to declare issues related to fitness, and there were support services for officers struggling with physical or mental health.

Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said it was outrageous the Government was failing to act on serious health risks faced by ABF officers.

"Australian Border Force officers are working around the clock to protect Australian's health and safety - they deserve a government that is on their side," she said.





Originally published as Why our protectors are pushing themselves to the borderline