Department of Human Services industrial action starts today, with staff flouting uniform policies, read prepared messages on the phone and taking other measures to voice their disgruntlement.

Callers to Centrelink or Medicare who get a union member on the line will be greeted with: “Sorry you have been kept waiting. The government has cut thousands of jobs over the past 10 years.”

“DHS union members are fighting for safer workloads and better ­services for you. If you want more ­information about our campaign, please email safeguard@cpsu­ Now, how can I help you?”

Reports say close to half of the Department of Human Services’ 30,000 workers are taking part in the limited work ban in protest at the recent wage offer of 2.3 per cent over three years, which was combined with cuts to entitlements.

The Commonwealth wants to remove its obligation to chip in 15.4 per cent to DHS staff’s superannuation, by shifting it out of their bargaining agreement and into policy instead.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said today’s action was the opening volley in the latest government fire fight, sounding a warning to Employment Minister Eric Abetz that the industrial dispute could escalate into a big headache.

“If he continues to refuse to talk, then he can expect an escalation of industrial action early next year,” she told News Limited.

Mr Abetz has some troubles in his own office too, with Department of Employment staff voting strongly against a low-ball pay offer put to them this week.

Ninety-six per cent of the 573 Employment staff rejected the below inflation pay rise of 1.4 per cent over three years.

The meagre increase was coupled with a demand that workers consent to losing 46 staff “through natural attrition”, get rid of time off in lieu for middle management and dump their half day on Christmas Eve.

Abetz even wants his staff to accept extra increments to grade pay bands, making salary advancement more difficult.

He also wants the same superannuation shift offered to DHS workers.

And finally, Abetz wants to claw back his staff’s $500 health and well-being allowance, which let staff below APS3 grade pay for gym membership, yoga classes and other healthy activities.