A survey conducted by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) of nearly 2,300 disability workers has flagged high levels of insecurity and uncertainty in the workforce.
Researchers Natasha Cortis and Georgia van Toorn from UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre found only one in five workers in the disability sector say the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been a positive experience for them as workers.
Dr Cortis says, “When the NDIS started to roll out, many commentators thought its problems were transitional or ‘teething issues’.
“This report shows the scheme is continuing to operate in ways that are at odds with its person-centred ethos.”
The ‘Working in new disability markets: A survey of Australia’s disability workforce’ report is based on a nationwide survey of more than 2,300 disability workers commissioned by the Health Services Union (HSU), United Workers Union (UWU) and Australian Services Union (ASU) in March.
The report found that many workers intend to leave the industry in five years, which, according to HSU National Secretary, Lloyd Williams, presents a problem for the industry.
“This sector needs to grow rapidly to keep up with demand, yet the report found 25 per cent of the workforce do not intend to be working in the sector in five years. This highlights the need for urgent action on these workforce issues.”
A key concern for workers was the rising casualisation of the workforce, with many staff having to work less than full time across multiple jobs, while also dealing with unstable rostering arrangements, constant shift changes and a lack of pay.
Dr van Toorn says that insecure work, low pay, unpaid hours and uncertainty about the timing and number of shifts each week is likely to impact the quality of care for people with disability.
“These issues profoundly affect the quality of services provided and the safety and wellbeing of NDIS participants.”
ASU National Secretary, Robert Potter, agrees saying “Current circumstances in the disability sector risk undermining [the] quality of life for people with disability; workers’ prospects for achieving financial security and satisfying careers; and the capacity of the industry to attract and retain a supply of workers.”
Only 36 percent of the survey respondents felt they received the time they need with their supervisors. While 43 percent said, they did not receive the required level of one-on-one time with their supervisor to discuss essential client needs and goals.
This was reinforced by supervisors who said they have too many people to oversee.
A lack of training was another major issue flagged for disability workers, with most professional development being provided outside of paid hours.
United Workers Union National Director, Demi Pnevmatikos says, “A well-supported worker, with decent working conditions and job security, is going to be in a much better place to provide high quality of care for people with disability.
“It is deeply concerning that the report found many work tasks which should be considered core to quality service delivery are performed during workers’ unpaid time, and workers are under-supported through supervision and training, with many left to make decisions on their own about client care and support.”
The problems flagged in the report by disability workers are likely to be difficult to resolve, says Dr Cortis.
“It’s difficult to resolve these problems where the service system is designed around a market-based model with low employment regulation, where profiteering is a real risk.
“Extra resources are needed, but these should be carefully directed to support quality provision at the frontline.”
Dr van Toorn adds, “It’s great we are having a national conversation about whether the NDIS is achieving its intended goals.
“But since workers are key to the success of the NDIS, their concerns deserve more attention than they are currently getting.”
HSU, UWN, and ASU have provided a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS outlining ways to improve working conditions for the disability workforce as a result of the survey.
For the latest updates on how COVID-19 is impacting the disability sector visit our dedicated COVID-19 information page.
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