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Disability support workers experiencing insecurity and uncertainty, report finds

Child in a wheelchair relaxing outside with a care assistant

A major report by UNSW researchers found only one in five workers in the disability sector say the NDIS has been a positive experience for them as workers.

“When the NDIS started to roll out, many commentators thought its problems were transitional or ‘teething issues’,” says Dr Cortis from UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre.

“This report shows the scheme is continuing to operate in ways that are at odds with its person-centred ethos.”

The report titled Working in new disability markets: A survey of Australia’s disability workforce is based on a nationwide survey of more than 2,300 responses from across the disability sector in March.

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 dealing with unstable rostering arrangements and constant shift changes.

Dr van Toorn, from UNSW Arts & Social Sciences, says workers are facing unprecedented levels of work intensification, insecure work, low pay, unpaid hours and uncertainty about the timing and number of shifts each week.

“These issues profoundly affect the quality of services provided and the safety and wellbeing of NDIS participants,” Dr van Toorn says.

Lack of pay was also among workers’ top concerns, with satisfaction dropping-off after the first year of employment, and workers not being properly reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses such as travel.

And only one in five workers in the industry expects to have enough superannuation when they retire, according to the report.

Only 36 per cent of respondents felt they received the time they need with their supervisors, while 43 per cent reported they did not receive the required level of one-on-one time with their supervisor to discuss essential client needs and goals.

A lack of training is another major issue for those in the disability sector, with most professional development being provided outside paid hours.

“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,” Dr Cortis says.

“Extra resources are needed, but these should be carefully directed to support quality provision at the frontline.”

Disability staff also reported that many work tasks which should be considered core to quality service delivery are performed during workers’ unpaid time.

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