Leave entitlements for NDIS workers could halt grim attrition stats

Posted 9 months ago by Bianca Iovino

The Disability Royal Commission has heard the result of a new report which suggests providing leave entitlements to all registered National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) workers, including casuals, to support greater recruitment and retention as the sector battles high turnover.

The McKell Institute’s Flexible But Fair report, commissioned by the Australian Services Union (ASU), concludes that an extension of portable leave entitlements to all registered NDIS workers would improve workforce retention and care for people with disabilities. 

ASU NSW & ACT Secretary, Angus McFarland, provided evidence to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability this week and made recommendations to help attract workers to the disability sector.

Those recommendations include: 

  • Portable leave entitlements scheme

Entitlements would move with the worker, such as superannuation contributions and leave entitlements. Given the increasing casualisation and gig-economy nature of disability support services, ASU wants to see workers of all permanency types receive leave entitlements such as annual, sick and carer’s leave which would be factored into NDIS pricing arrangements.

  • Portable training scheme

Workers would be given more opportunities for career development and training while being paid for it due to a lack of mandatory minimum qualifications, requirements and funding within NDIS pricing arrangements.

  • National worker registration scheme

This scheme would provide centralised risk-based screening functions, administer quality work arrangements to workers, and protect participants. It also could be used to administer the portable leave and training entitlements schemes.

Mr McFarland says that with no access to accrued entitlements, many NDIS workers are forgoing holidays for their own mental health, and debating whether they can afford to take days off sick – thus exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.

“Providing access to basic entitlements and opportunities, such as annual leave and training, would boost the morale of disability support workers,” he says.

“Workers are racing each other to the bottom in wages, and also feeling dissatisfied in their jobs with little access to professional development and training opportunities.

“The future of the NDIS, and the wellbeing, hopes and dreams of its participants, are relying on a committed workforce. We can’t achieve this if workers feel disempowered, undervalued, and are desperate to leave.” 

The report coincides with Mr McFarland’s recommendations, highlighting that the NDIS sector has the highest rate of attrition in the Australian economy, with up to one-quarter of workers leaving the sector and over half wishing to leave within five years. 

The NDIS also has growing workforce needs with 83,000 additional workers required by the end of 2024.

Report author and McKell’s Director of Policy, Edward Cavanough, says workplace conditions need to catch up with the increasingly insecure nature of NDIS work.

“The NDIS sector is reliant upon fragmented and flexible work to meet participant needs. The increasing use of contractor or ‘gig’ labour means many workers are engaging in full-time hours without the full-time benefits,” he says.

“High rates of NDIS staff turnover is costly to taxpayers and service providers. Any additional costs for a portable entitlements scheme would likely be minimal, given leave is already factored into NDIS pricing but often withheld by scheme employers.

“It’s been demonstrated through siloed long service leave schemes across various States, and the Government’s now axed Paid Pandemic Disaster Leave for sick casual and contract workers. 

“Now’s the time for the Federal Government to expand the accessibility of entitlements to retain and attract the workforce that hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities are relying on.”

The McKell Institute recommends the Federal Government consider commencing a legislative process designed to extend portable entitlements to registered NDIS workers during this term of Parliament, with an intention to have a scheme operational by the 2025/26 Financial Year. 

The Federal Government has committed to consulting with the States, unions and other industry stakeholders to develop portable entitlement schemes for Australians in insecure work, which includes disability workers.