The forecast Federal Budget surplus, built on the back of a $1.6b NDIS ‘underspend’, showed the country that this Government’s priorities are all wrong when it comes to disability. 

You only have to look at the treatment of the disability sector workforce to see how this incompetence is having a real impact on care.

One of our members working as a disability support worker recently shared a typical working day with me. His day ran over a 12-hour period visiting people in his care. But for the 12 hours he was required for, he was paid for just six.

This situation stems directly from the abysmal management of the NDIS by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government over the past 6 years. Staffing caps, byzantine bureaucratic processes and grossly inadequate funding caps have put enormous pressure on disability service providers. This has inevitably led to cut price conditions for workers.

Like in our member’s case, most employees in the sector are not rostered on for the time required to visit and meet the needs of their clients, instead they are rostered to attend clients in individual time blocks; they then ‘cease work’ and travel – without pay – to their next individual client for a new and separate short shift.

If you offered these terms to a banker, lawyer or politician they would laugh in your face. Particularly if they were offered $25.98 an hour like the average qualified disability worker.

The Health Services Union is currently before the Fair Work Commission arguing for a better deal for disability workers in their Award. The Award Review made headlines last month when the NSW Business Chamber decided that disability support and aged care workers should be employed as cut rate casuals by reducing their casual loading from 25% to 10% and shift certainty.

We are fighting this claim every step of the way. If we don’t it will be even harder to recruit the additional 70,000 full-time equivalent workers required for the roll out of the NDIS.

To attract a quality, skilled workforce, we need to improve wages and conditions. Part-time and casual workers in these sectors already face significant income and job insecurity.

Our members often work for multiple employers just to eke out a living. Too frequently they are being employed on minimum hours contracts or as casuals, despite the fact that they regularly work 10 to 20 hours or more each week.

For many workers the casual loading of 25% is the only thing stopping them sliding deeper into working poverty.

It would be madness to introduce a category of employment that will simply make it harder to recruit and retain workers.

Our members working in the disability sector want fair, equitable and quality services for some of our most vulnerable Australians. They care deeply about the people they support and do it with skill and dedication.  But if we don’t care for the disability workforce, who will care for our most vulnerable Australians?

To put the heart back into the NDIS, we need a scheme that covers the real cost of service delivery and provides good jobs, without fear of becoming a cut rate casual or any other harebrained scheme cooked up by the bosses lobby.

Instead of building surpluses on the back of the NDIS, it is time to build up NDIS participants and workers to realise the quality NDIS that we all envisaged.

Lloyd Williams is the National Secretary of the Health Services Union, and the Branch Secretary of the Health and Community Services Union in Victoria.

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