NDIS wage theft must be addressed by independent review, says union

Posted 1 year ago by Alex Jacobs
Wage theft in the NDIS is a major concern for one disability support workers union [Source: Pexels]
Wage theft in the NDIS is a major concern for one disability support workers union [Source: Pexels]

Rampant wage theft from National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) disability support workers must be addressed in the Government’s independent review, says the Australian Services Union (ASU).

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten announced a new NDIS Independent Review Panel in October to assess the causes of increased expenses within the Scheme as it’s expected NDIS costs will blowout to more than $50 billion annually within five years.

But the ASU wants the review to also focus on a “myriad of unscrupulous providers ripping off staff” as cases of disability support workers being paid below minimum award wage go unresolved.

ASU NSW & ACT secretary, Angus McFarland, says NDIS providers are deliberately misclassifying their workers and pocketing the difference for themselves.

“As the market has expanded and new entrants have come in, some providers are deliberately engaging in what I would call wage theft and NDIS fraud,” says Mr McFarland.

“They claim from a participant’s package and charge them for a disability support worker but they don’t pass that rate onto the actual worker.

“We’ve seen examples where staff are classified as aged care workers, who are unfortunately paid less than disability support workers, or they pay them a random wage that’s below the award minimum and they pocket that difference.

“What these providers are doing is not just unlawful and unfair, it undermines the sustainability of the entire scheme.”

Mr McFarland says the NDIS participants who are unknowingly being defrauded would also be disappointed to learn their care worker is being underpaid for highly personal work.

Thecrackdown on NDIS fraud has been ongoing and it will be further scrutinised by a new $126 million fraud taskforce that was announced in the October Federal Budget.

The Government expects the taskforce to recover close to $300 million from NDIS providers cheating the system.

The ASU says problematic NDIS providers need to receive more focus as wage theft is likely to be more rampant than currently believed.

“This kind of scam is actually so routine within the system that many providers don’t even really consider that they are doing the wrong thing and workers are leaving the sector in droves,” says Mr McFarland.

“We need to attract about 100,000 new workers according to the Department of Health and Social Services and yet we are seeing cases of underpaid workers who are leaving the system.

“The NDIS’ own benchmarking data reveals that ten percent of providers said they were not paying people properly. That’s self-reporting and I expect the number to be higher in reality.

“We can’t build a sustainable NDIS off the back of workers who are underpaid.”

While the ASU urges Minister Shorten’s independent review to tackle the misuse of price claims and wage suppression, it also wants the NDIA to recognise wage theft as a major issue.

Currently, lengthy legal processes are allowing providers to escape without reprimand, leading to a lack of positive outcomes for workers.

“The NDIA hasn’t really considered wage theft as a matter it would look into but the best situation is one where it uses its regulatory powers to nip this in the bud,” says Mr McFarland.

The Union has made complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman in the past, however, it can be a long process.

They had a recent case where a disability provider shut down, sacked their workers, and fled the country – leaving workers with nothing.

Mr McFarland firmly believes that disability support workers require better working conditions to ensure they can pass on the best care to NDIS participants.

“Disability support workers are also a vulnerable group of people because they’re insecurely employed, there’s a huge power imbalance,” says Mr McFarland.

“We really want to see conditions improve in the sector and not just focus on enforcing the minimum wage. But sadly we have to shine a light on this because we’re seeing it happen again and again.”

He says the ASU is pushing for additional disability support worker entitlements, including paid annual leave that can be accumulated even when working for multiple NDIS providers.

Talking Disability also contacted People With Disability Australia and Disability Advocacy Network Australia for comment but did not receive a reply by publication.