Disability Employment Service investigated by the Royal Commission

Posted 2 years ago by Anna Christian
Public Hearing 21 of the Disability Royal Commission focused on a case study of a Disability Employment Service and participant. [Source: Disability Royal Commission]
Public Hearing 21 of the Disability Royal Commission focused on a case study of a Disability Employment Service and participant. [Source: Disability Royal Commission]

A case study heard by the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability has shown gaps in employment support and poor handling of complaints.

Public Hearing 21 focused on the experience of people with disability engaging with Disability Employment Services (DES) and in particular the experiences of Mzia*, who worked as a barista trainer in a program known as BusyBeans.

Mzia was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in her 30s and had previously used a mainstream job service provider to find work but was unsuccessful in getting a job.

It was suggested that Mzia get an Employment Services Assessment and try going through a DES provider.

After working with one DES provider for a time and not finding a job, Mzia transferred to DES provider, AimBig Employment.

She was given a job plan, but told the Royal Commission, “I didn’t have much understanding of the job plan. It’s pretty much just what a job provider puts in front of you and you sign it. I didn’t realise that I could have choice and control of what is in that job plan.”

Mzia then found a job as a barista trainer in the BusyBeans employment program and was employed by Rehab Management, part of the Arriba Group which AimBig Employment is also part of.

But when she arrived for her first day on the job, she was given no induction or training and was given only a domestic coffee machine and carton of long life milk with which to do her job.

“I thought from what was advertised online and what I heard about, I thought it would be a lot more set up, a lot more supplies, like basic requirements,” she says.

Mzia had to apply for an advance on her family tax benefit to be able to purchase the supplies and equipment needed to do her job, so that the company could then reimburse her for the purchases.

Aside from the space not being set up, Mzia was concerned about the safety of participants training in the office as it wasn’t set up as a cafe – there were factors like trip hazards from power cords and the coffee machines were placed on computer desks.

She also spoke about her issue with not having a position description, explaining the tasks which were part of her role as barista trainer, or any training or guidance in how to deliver the program to participants – all of whom were DES participants themselves.

When Mzia raised her concerns with her job coach and others at AimBig she says nothing changed and it escalated to the point where the stress of her concerns about the job, as well as her lack of post placement support as a DES participant herself, led to her taking sick leave because of her mental health.

She eventually quit the job because her concerns weren’t addressed.

Appearing before the Royal Commission on Friday, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Arriba Group, Marcella Romero, apologised to Mzia.

“I would like to apologise on behalf of Rehab Management and AimBig. I’d like to apologise for Mzia not having a good experience with us and I’d apologise for the way she feels. We did not live our ‘People’ value in that instance,” she says.

However, Ms Romero disagreed that AimBig did not have an appropriate process to manage conflict – particularly between Mzia and her job coach, that Aimbig’s complaint making and resolution process was not made clear to Mzia, that Aimbig did not take appropriate action in response to concerns raised by Mzia, and that there was not adequate post placement support provided.

She also disagreed that AimBig failed Mzia as a DES participant.

“I think to say completely failed would be unreasonable given that the post placement support was offered but I think there were some gaps in that and I do believe we could have done a better job,” Ms Romero says.

“To use the word fail is a bit strong, I don’t believe we failed, we just didn’t do a good job in that instance, although we supported her to some extent but we could have done a better job.”

Ms Romero also took on notice a question about what her organisation would do to redress Mzia’s situation, as she hadn’t thought about redress action.

She insisted that BusyBeans was a “very successful” program, but figures showed only 30 of the participants were placed in open employment out of 167 paid participants trained before the program was shut down by COVID-19.

Submission calls for widespread reform to Disability Employment Services

Inclusion Australia, the national peak body for intellectual disability, has used the focus of the Royal Commission’s hearing to raise awareness of the experiences of people with intellectual disability with DES.

The organisation says DES are failing people with intellectual disability and CEO of Inclusion Australia, Catherine McAlpine, adds Inclusion Australia has made a submission to the Government on reforming the DES.

“People with an intellectual disability have told us very clearly; DES is not working,” she says.

“Only 3.1 percent of people in DES have an intellectual disability. This means too many people end up on the ‘polished pathway’ to day services and segregated employment.

“Everyone deserves an opportunity to find out their potential and to be paid a decent wage. Right now, DES is not delivering for the people that need support the most and face the biggest barriers to work.”

The submission is based on feedback from people with intellectual disability and their family members and includes recommendations to:

  • Establish a Centre of Excellence in open and self-employment of people with an intellectual disability
  • Develop specialist DES providers with expertise in supporting people with intellectual disability across the country
  • Provide support and information for people with an intellectual disability and families to navigate complex systems, like DES and Centrelink
  • Take a whole of life approach, from school to retirement, that better supports people to meet their potential
  • Improve coordination between DES and the NDIS
  • Provide incentives for people to work without it affecting their Disability Support Pension

Inclusion Australia’s full submission can be read here.

*Mzia is a pseudonym used by the Royal Commission to protect the identity of the witness.