Title Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Database Joint Committees
Date 08-09-2020
Source Joint
Parl No. 46
Committee Name Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Page 24
Questioner CHAIR
Brown, Sen Carol
Coker, Elizabeth, MP
Responder Mr Williams
Ms Gaske
Ms Coad
System Id committees/commjnt/9f487cc1-65ae-4f65-8b8e-b062fa6bbd00/0005

Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme - 08/09/2020

COAD, Ms Melissa, Coordinator Stakeholder and Professional Development, United Workers Union

GASKE, Ms Emeline, National Campaign Coordinator, Australian Services Union

WILLIAMS, Mr Lloyd, National Secretary, Health Services Union

Katrina, Member and Support Worker, United Workers Union

Kim, Support Worker, Australian Services Union

Simone, Disability Worker, Victorian Disability Sector

Evidence was taken via teleconference—


CHAIR: We now have online representatives from the Australian Services Union, the Health Services Union and the United Workers Union. I welcome you and thank you for appearing before the committee today. Information about the procedural rules governing public hearings has been provided to you and is available from the secretariat. I understand that representing each of the unions today is a union official and a union member who is a disability support worker and that the union members have asked to be identified by their first names only for the purposes of this hearing or to use a pseudonym, which the committee has agreed to. I now invite each of you, whoever wishes to, to make some opening comments.

Mr Williams : Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that I'm giving this statement on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and would like to pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I make this opening statement on behalf of the Health Services Union, the Australian Services Union and the United Workers Union. Following this statement, members from each of our unions will also give a brief statement about their own experiences on the front line of service delivery, and they intend to make those brief statements shortly.

Our three unions collectively represent tens of thousands of NDIS workers across Australia. We have a unique insight into how the design and rollout of the scheme is impacting on the workforce and their ability to deliver high-quality supports for people with a disability. I appreciate the committee has just heard from Doctors Cortis and van Toorn on the findings of the unions' commissioned workforce research; however, I would just like to emphasise some key findings on behalf of our three unions. Firstly, insecure work arrangements are the norm in the sector. Half of all workers said that they were worried about their rosters. Forty-five per cent said their shifts change unexpectedly, and the same proportion said their employment arrangements did not feel secure. Many workers report a lack of access to training and diminishing levels of supervision. One in four workers said they had received less than one hour of training in the previous 12 months, and over half of all workers agreed that they had to make important decisions about client safety and support on their own.

The NDIS workforce has low pay satisfaction and is increasingly called upon to donate their unpaid time to deliver services. For every paid hour of work, low-paid disability workers donate an average of 4.6 minutes of unpaid time. This is equivalent to 36.8 minutes for a full working day. If we extrapolate that across the whole workforce, we can see that there is a significant amount of unpaid work delivered by low-paid disability workers. Given these findings, it's not surprising that only one in five workers agreed that the NDIS had been positive for them as workers. However, rather than repeat the findings of the research in detail, I would like to identify some of the key reasons why we believe the NDIS workforce has not been supported during the rollout of the scheme.

One of the biggest structural flaws we see in the NDIS rollout is the separation of responsibility for workforce development among the NDIA, the Department of Social Services and the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. As we understand it, DSS has responsibility for workforce policy and the NDIS commission is charged with promoting quality services and applying sanctions when things go wrong. However, this model fails because the NDIA controls the primary levers to influence workforce development and quality assurance, namely by controlling the prices payable for services.

Additionally, this model means that the primary Commonwealth agency responsible for the implementation of the scheme, being the NDIA, does not take workforce matters into account in its decision-making. An example of this occurred on 6 February this year, when leaders from the ASU and the United Workers Union and I met with the CEO of the NDIA, Mr Martin Hoffman. We met to discuss how we could constructively work together to ensure that the rollout of the NDIS could better meet workforce needs. While the meeting was cordial, we were effectively told that matters concerning the NDIS workforce were not in the NDIA's remit and that we should instead work with the DSS. As a consequence, to this day not a single union sits on any of the standing working groups convened by the NDIA to guide the rollout of the scheme, and this is despite the wealth of workforce knowledge that unions bring to the table, not only about workforce and training issues but also about the operation of awards and the cost drivers around workforce delivery. For a scheme that is reliant on a skilled, high-quality and available workforce, this strikes us as a missed opportunity and a key reason as to why the agency continues to use false assumptions in its development of price caps and other market settings.

If I could turn now to the issue of COVID-19, I'd like to briefly update the committee on the pandemic's impact on the NDIS workforce. Like the aged-care sector, the inadequacies of the disability sector have been highlighted by the pandemic. As with aged care, the disability workforce is highly mobile, working across multiple settings and often between sectors. This feature of the workforce is driven by high levels of insecure work and an inability to secure enough hours with a single service provider. It is this feature which has seen considerable outbreaks of COVID-19 in Victoria during its ongoing second wave. From March 2020 to 7 September the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission received reports of 105 participants and 192 workers who had contracted COVID-19. However, this data does not include a considerable number of residential disability services—over 500—that are still operated by the Victorian government or are in the process of being transferred to non-government service providers, so we think the data is significantly underreported.

At the start of the pandemic in March, our unions collectively worked together to propose constructive changes to the industrial relations system that would help to keep both NDIS workers and participants safe. These proposals included paid pandemic leave and the COVID care allowance for workers supporting a participant who had contracted COVID-19. Disappointingly, the proposals received no support from the Commonwealth, and many employer groups devoted considerable resources to stopping these changes from happening. As a consequence, our members report feeling very much forgotten during the pandemic and describe feeling dangerously underprepared and unsupported throughout the pandemic.

In concluding these opening remarks, I would like to say that our unions have always been strong supporters of the NDIS, and our longstanding position has been that quality disability services depend on a quality workforce. For people with disabilities, skilled and well-supported workers employed with decent working conditions and good job security can ensure that support is consistent, is of high quality and is responsive to the choices and needs of participants. However, as the NDIS rollout has progressed, we have witnessed an erosion of working conditions and a deskilling of the workforce. We submit that this is a consequence of deliberate policy choices by the Commonwealth government via unrealistic capped pricing by the NDIA and an absence of leadership in the development of a workforce plan for the sector that needs to double in size over the next number of years in order to meet demand of the community.

On behalf of the three unions, I would note that many of the issues identified in our submissions are not new. However, we hope that the committee, through this inquiry, can give renewed impetus to the need to value, grow and support the NDIS workforce. As mentioned earlier, we have three frontline NDIS workers here with us today who are keen to give evidence. I would like to invite Katrina to speak first, followed by Kim and then Simone. Thank you.

Katrina : I have worked in the disability sector since 2015. Before working in disability, I worked in the aged-care sector for about 20 years. I'm currently in a permanent role in a house providing support to a client who has a cognitive and intellectual disability. I've also worked in the community and with children with a disability.

There've been a few things about my work that I would like to talk with you about today. First is the lack of respect I believe we as disability support workers receive. Compared to my experience in aged care, where we were prized as the backbone of the workforce, here my experience is that we are told not to question anything and to shut up and just do our jobs. Our jobs are important, but we are overworked and exhausted and stressed. Just recently, when my husband was sick, I felt like I could not take leave to stay home and look after him, because I knew that if I took the day off there was no-one else to cover my workload. There are a lot of economically vulnerable people working in disability who are treated very badly.

The next thing I would like to talk about is training—or the poor training or lack of training we receive. In my job, I'm often asked to do things that I'm not trained for. We do not get good-quality training. I've heard of people doing manual-handling training without using any equipment and just having the things described to them. I maintain my manual-handling training myself externally. My organisation won't pay for it, as they say my client doesn't need it, but I think it is important. We get poor training in infection control. Fire safety is another area we are not trained in, and fire equipment is not regularly checked, even though we have to do a fire safety drill with our clients. My employer, it appears, merely ticks the box on training, and it's not good quality. I'm about to get my certificate IV, but I won't be paid for certificate IV; I'm doing this for myself. We don't always get paid to do training, and I've been asked to do training while I'm with my client.

The last thing I want to talk about is unpaid work. My employer has told me that because my client is only level 2 there is no funding for a 15-minute handover between workers. Therefore, when we get towards the end of a shift, we're left having to go over time, and we don't get paid for the handovers and any notes or admin work left outstanding. I do this in my own time, or sometimes I have to do it while I'm with my client. To me, this is theft; this is time I should be with my client, supporting her, not doing rostering or other work that would be deemed under a coordinator or other management. Thank you.

Kim : I'm a professional disability support worker on the New South Wales coast. Disability support workers provide a highly professional service to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, yet we are not valued by governments. We are not provided with accredited training in a way that other professional workers are so we can learn specialised skills and build a career in the job we love. We are not paid at a rate that other professionals would expect, so younger people don't even want to start a career in our sector. Most of us are women who work either casual or part time, and most of us will work until we drop—way past our 65th birthdays—because we cannot afford to retire. And when we do retire, after a lifetime of looking after other people, we often retire into poverty.

Disability support workers have been living and working in their communities during disasters stretching back more than a year now. In addition to our own trauma and loss, we've been working with vulnerable people and families who are completely overwhelmed by months of drought, fires and smoke, hailstorms, floods and, now, a pandemic. We kept working while the world was collapsing around us because we could not afford not to work. We also kept working because what we do is essential. It's work that must be done, and this is not work that just anyone can do. I am part of a team that supports a man living with complex trauma, physical and intellectual disabilities and violent behavioural disorders. He needs 24/7 care. He cannot look after himself at all. During the fires, floods and, now, COVID, we have been there for him. While my colleagues were working with this man and others like him during the fires, some lost their own homes or could not return to their own homes because of evacuation orders. Yet they continued to work, living with their own families in evacuation centres, working with very vulnerable clients in evacuation centres without even basic PPE or other supports.

We are valued as essential professionals by the people and the communities we care for, but we're not valued by governments. Thank you.

Simone : I'd just like to agree with Katrina and Kim on everything that they have said. I work with the disability support workers in Victoria. I'm also a member of the HACSU, the Health and Community Services Union. I've been working in the disability sector for about five years. I actually decided to do that due to my mum being very sick with cancer and passing away. I didn't actually like how she was treated where she was. That is the reason I took up disability—so that I could look after people and care for them the way that I thought that she should have been cared for. Although I did look after her at home in her later stages, I wasn't happy with the way she was treated there.

When I did my qualifications, I was trained in aged care, but I took disability roles because I thought I would be more valuable in those positions. Since 2005 I've worked for a Victorian non-profit disability provider which provides supports to independent living services for NDIS participants. My workplace is two homes, and my work is split between five residents in each house. It's 24/7 service, with a number of different shifts. Although my colleagues and I work over those shifts for which we are required, we are very tired. We don't like calling in sick, because there isn't anyone to take our place, so our residents actually would not get any care. The residents' age range is early 40s to late 60s. They all have multiple sclerosis, a number also have Alzheimer's and at least one has diabetes. So, as you can imagine, it is a full-on job in which we give them our care.

In August this year, during the second wave of COVID in Victoria, one of our residents displayed symptoms of this infection—a dry cough and a mild fever—and we obviously knew he wasn't very well. We followed DHHS guidelines. We called for a locum to come. They advised that they wouldn't come to the house and we needed to get an ambulance in that situation. The ambulance arrived and they took the resident to hospital. We were told that the resident was being tested for COVID, so we weren't allowed to work until we actually got his results, and, unfortunately, they came back positive. At that time, there were eight staff members who had worked with this resident, so eight of us were actually off the floor, which meant that they needed to get other people to come and take our positions. So, when the resident's results came back positive, we were told we had to isolate for 14 days. Staff advised, yes, this is what they would do.

During the 14 days in isolation, my colleagues and I were paid as normal. However, towards the end of the isolation period, a company email was sent to the staff, stating that, from 1 September, if we had to take 14 days off because of a COVID incident, we would have to use our annual leave. Their reason for that was that we weren't sick, which we found all very disturbing and, of course, we weren't very impressed with it. Just in the last couple of days, the same resident had been tested for COVID again, but he came back negative, so we really had only needed to take a couple of the days off. In being told of this—that we were being penalised for continuing to do our jobs, turning up in the middle of the pandemic to care for our residents. We just feel that there's a lack of acknowledgement of what we do. Also, there was no effective PPE, which we needed while we were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we love our job, and we know that we are essential workers and we obviously need to care for our residents, we would like to be heard and to be treated exactly the same way as workers in aged care. That's all I have to say.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your contribution. I will lead off with questions and then go to Senator Brown. Mr Williams, can I come back to your comments about the structural flaws in the design of the scheme and the fact that the NDIA, the DSS and the NDIS commission have different responsibilities but there doesn't seem to be any particular body that necessarily has overall leadership in terms of workforce development. I have to say, it's an observation that I've made previously not simply about workforce but about the NDIS generally. In trying to be constructive about it, what's the solution? Should, for example, the legislative basis of the NDIA be changed to give it that leadership, or should it be clear that it's the Department of Social Services that should have this leadership, or should the commission have not simply a policing or monitoring role, as it does, but some broader role? Where do you think the best solution lies if, as you say, there are these cracks in the system through which areas such as future workforce planning can fall?

Mr Williams : We think that, as you've rightly pointed out, there is a fundamental disconnect between the three agencies, particularly when it comes to workforce, but it's also an issue when it comes to quality and safeguards. We have the commission setting the quality frameworks, but then we have the NDIA setting the pricing to support those frameworks. We don't think that that works, and we think that there needs to be a greater integration of price setting with policy setting, whether that sits with the DSS or with the quality and safeguards commission. We don't think pricing should sit with the NDIA. The NDIA is about ensuring that plans and the scheme are implemented for participants. We don't think that it's appropriate that they are the price setters and that it may well be better for that to sit with the quality and safeguards commission. But there most certainly needs to be a level of integration between the three government agencies as to this important area. We know that 90 per cent of service delivery is workforce. We think that those gaps that exist between the agencies need to be addressed and there needs to be greater coordination between the three. As to how that coordination is finally delivered, it should probably be through the DSS and through the quality and safeguards commission.

CHAIR: Does the disability services council have some role to play here? At the moment, our discussion is really about those participants in the NDIS, but of course they're a subset of disabled people. There's a large cohort of Australians who are disabled who are not in the NDIS. Therefore, should there be some integration at a broader level which includes the states and territories around workforce more broadly? I presume that there are workers who work within the NDIS—in other words, provide services that are funded through the NDIA—but also provide other services which are not part of the NDIS?

Mr Williams : Yes, absolutely. We have the workforce working across different sectors, and, at times, they're not working within the NDIS. The other problem that you've rightly identified is as to the states. What we now have is a disconnection with the states, and those people who have a disability associated with some other existing condition may fall out of the NDIA and then may be subject to the services that are delivered by the states. So we think that, fundamentally, the management of the NDIS should have a greater role with the states. It should be more of a model that is similar to health, where there are federal and state partnerships in order to ensure that people don't fall through the gaps of service delivery between the Commonwealth and the states.

CHAIR: To what extent is there any overlap in terms of the workforce between disability and aged care? Secondly, to what extent are the two sectors competing with each other for the same workforce?

Mr Williams : They both have critical shortages. We have many disability workers who work across both aged care and disability. The service providers do compete, but they are competing for workers that simply do not exist. We know we have to grow the disability workforce significantly, but it's the same problem in aged care. And one of the fundamental problems is that both are undervalued, underpaid and experience insecure work. So you see a lot of churning of workers through the various sectors, and we think that a comprehensive workforce plan for the disability sector and the aged-care sector is desperately needed. Particularly as we as we come out of the pandemic, it's an opportunity for us to make a real difference in terms of delivering high-quality, high-skilled and highly valued workers. But it also means that we have to deal with the issues of reasonable pay, reasonable career structures, decent training and secure work in order to attract workers into both sectors.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Thank you for your presentation here today, I'd also like to thank Kim, Katrina and Simone for their presentation and giving their valuable time to this inquiry. My first question is around the Department of Social Services and the process they're currently undertaking in developing the National NDIS Workforce Plan. What involvement have your unions had in the development of this plan?

Mr Williams : The first opportunity for a broad section of stakeholders to comment on the National NDIS Workforce Plan was in late February of this year, and it was via a survey on the DSS Engage platform. Originally the survey was open for two weeks only, providing pretty limited opportunity for stakeholders to respond. It was then extended to the end of March, but, unfortunately, this period coincided with the escalation of the pandemic. We are concerned that very few stakeholders either knew or were able to fully respond as they would have liked to. As a union, we were most certainly unable to respond to the consultation, because our resources during the pandemic didn't allow it.

More than three years ago, the HSU first publicly called for the development of a comprehensive sector-wide workforce strategy which included input from unions, providers, people with a disability and all levels of government—both federal and state. We made that recommendation to the Productivity Commission in its 2017 inquiry into NDIS costs and we've repeated it consistently since then. However, our view is that the Commonwealth has waited for action until the NDIS is nearly fully rolled out, and then run its consultation in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic. That suggests to me that they don't take their market stewardship responsibilities very seriously, and we don't understand how you can develop a workforce plan without properly consulting the workforce itself or its representatives.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Where are they up to then with the national workforce plan? I have asked a couple of witnesses, and they were unaware of or had not had any consultation in the development of the plan.

Mr Williams : We know only what's on the website. It's pretty scant in terms of the information that's provided, so I can't answer the question as to how far it's developed. We've not been involved. As I said earlier, because of the pandemic, we weren't in a position to focus on a response to that short survey.

Senator CAROL BROWN: So you're not in a position to let the committee know—other than about a very limited survey through Engage, which, if you're putting plans together, is not a path that I would go down because it is a very limited platform—when the plan's going to be delivered or what, if any, further consultation will be undertaken.

Mr Williams : No, that's correct.

Ms Gaske : I just want to say that I think that that's all the more disappointing in circumstances where we have a crisis emerging before our eyes, which is all the more exemplified by the COVID-19 experience. We know the issues that the workforce are facing. We know we need secure jobs, we need training, we need career paths and we need decent pay, and we don't have time to engage in these endless processes that don't seem to end up anywhere. Casualised and permanent part-time jobs in this industry are a huge weakness in our defence against COVID-19, and it's urgent. We've got this casualised workforce that we know is not going to meet the requirements of the future. We don't have enough workers ready to go in the pipeline, and COVID-19 and climate related natural emergencies aren't going anywhere. So we need urgent investment in skills and training, but instead we've got pricing that doesn't allow for any training or supervision at all. We haven't even really scratched the surface of the really variable needs that people requiring disability support have, but even the training for the COVID-19 response and infection control was totally inadequate, let alone the very complex needs we have going forward. So I think this is a really urgent crisis that needs a solution now.

Senator CAROL BROWN: I couldn't agree more. It was very interesting when Simone said that there was no PPE for them to use, which is extremely concerning given that there isn't any paid pandemic leave. Just before I move off that comment, do you think that would be useful—

Ms Gaske : Yes, sure.

Senator CAROL BROWN: that government—

Ms Gaske : Sorry, it's hard on a teleconference.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Continue, sorry—yes.

Ms Gaske : I'll say two things. The first thing is around PPE as well as around ensuring adequate infection control training if or when it's available. Training someone to put the PPE itself on and take it off is one thing, but there's so much more work that goes into supporting a client who is suspected of COVID-19—even more so in a group home environment. There's cleaning. There's the management of the emotions and reactions of the client, and perhaps trying to support someone with an intellectual disability to understand the rules around social distancing and any number of associated things. The lack of PPE is obviously incredibly alarming but so is the support for the workforce in all of the associated issues relating to COVID-19.

Paid pandemic leave is essential in the disability sector. We've seen the tragic situation in aged care, and that's driven by insecure work. This is a workforce that is precarious. It's one of the most casualised workforces in the country and they can't afford to miss a shift. Disability workers need the support of a safety net so they can isolate if they need to, without risking not being able to pay the rent or put food on the table. The work itself by its very nature carries a heightened risk of transmission of the virus. It's close quarters, across numerous workplaces and dealing with people with a heightened risk if they do contract the virus. I would say it's essential.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Thank you. I'll move to the work that's underway around nationally consistent worker screening for NDIS participants. Do you think that this will improve the quality and safety of services?

Mr Williams : Perhaps if I covered this question because of the experience that we've had in Victoria. We would welcome the introduction of a nationally consistent scheme. However, we understand that the way the screening check as currently proposed will work in practice is that it's a negative licensing scheme—that is, if a worker is found to have committed misconduct or done something wrong in their practice, the worker is banned from working in the sector by virtue of losing their screening clearance, rather than a positive registration scheme, which is what we advocate, that has a focus on minimum skills and competencies that builds the capacity of the workforce to deliver safe and quality services before working in the sector. You have a registration scheme that adds value to the worker because they can identify their additional qualifications and skills within their registration, and you pick up screening in that as well. It would also add value to the service providers in terms of identifying the skills that a worker brings.

The other problem with the scheme as currently contemplated is that the screening check will only apply to registered NDIS service providers, which leaves quite a large regulatory gap for those families that are directly employed, because they don't need to be registered as a service provider. The committee may have heard evidence that attitudes and values are more important than skills and training. Our concern is that that's a false debate. NDIS workers need to have the right values and attitudes, but they also need to have the right skills and training to ensure that they can deliver the supports that an NDIS participant needs and that those supports are high quality and safe. This is particularly important for those participants who have complex health and behavioural needs.

Another critique of a positive scheme which is often discussed is that it would hinder growth in the NDIS workforce, particularly in thin markets. However, there are currently barriers to entry for a range of professions which are required in thin markets, for example allied health, nursing and teaching, yet no reasonable person suggests that we should dispense with mandatory qualifications for these professions just because positions are hard to fill.

So we support a positive licensing scheme and we don't think a negative scheme will add value to building a qualified and respected workforce within the disability sector. I would point the committee to the Victorian Disability Worker Commission, which is in the process of establishing a positive licensing scheme in Victoria. You might consider a similar model nationally that, as I said earlier, can provide quality outcomes for workers and for participants but is also, importantly, linked to proper funding and pricing through the NDIS pricing structures.

Senator CAROL BROWN: We have had a discussion today with other witnesses around the use of online platform services. Do you have any feedback from your members around the use of online platform services?

Ms Coad : Firstly, we have a number of concerns about these platform services, mainly around the reduction in employment security, as they don't, apart from one, directly employ any of the workers; they merely match them. They also put a downward pressure on pay rates. The platform, in effect, acts as an employer—they do take some control of the workers' work—but they don't take any of the responsibilities and risks of an employer. Those risks get devolved to the workers, and we're talking about low-paid, underresourced workers. In terms of our members' experience—

Senator CAROL BROWN: Sorry; do you have an understanding of how many online platform services are out there?

Ms Coad : I am only aware of probably three or four that I can bring to mind immediately, but certainly we can take that as a question on notice between the unions, if you'd like a bit more information about our awareness of what exists.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Yes. That would be fantastic. Thank you.

Ms Coad : Certainly. In terms of our members' experience of using those platforms, the survey that we commissioned from the SPRC did ask a question about the use of the platforms, and it found that members' experience was that they provided short hours at short notice, it was often a long process to enrol in the platform and it didn't necessarily lead to any work. A real downside for members was that they often got limited information about the people that they were going to support or the nature of the work that they would need to provide. From our members' perspective, that really impacts the quality of support that they're able to provide for people. The lack of support and supervision—some sites have quite high fees in insurance, and some members experienced that those sites were very slow to pass on the pay rates, because it required the person who'd received the supports to approve those supports.

Interestingly, last week the aged care royal commission, in their home care hearings, looked at the impact of platform workers on work in that sector, and the senior counsel in that instance questioned quite rigorously some platform providers. It seems that the line of questioning that they're leading to in that sector is looking at greater regulation of those providers, to ensure at least worker screening and quality service delivery. Ultimately these conditions really lead to reduced service quality, if workers don't know the participants. People often don't use this platform for permanent work. They often use it for add-on work. You might have multiple workers on a platform coming through a person's home, which is lack of consistency, and also, obviously, in times like this, of a pandemic, it brings with it infection risks as well.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Mr Williams, in your opening statement you mentioned the six standing groups on which the unions are not represented. Why do you think that is?

Mr Williams : Senator, I can't answer that question for you. I can only make some assumptions that the NDIA doesn't value the contributions that unions would bring to the table. As I've said, the unions bring a wealth of knowledge—and we had this discussion with the NDIA back in February. We bring not only a wealth of knowledge about workforce, the issues of supply and demand, the issues around training and the key issues that come around attraction and retention but we also bring significant knowledge about the operation of modern awards and the setting of industry employment standards that the NDIA really should be taking into account when they're setting pricing. We raised these issues. As I said, it was a cordial conversation but there's been no further conversation since February and there's certainly been no invite by the NDIA for a further dialogue or input into any of those working groups. So we are at a loss as to why the skills and knowledge that unions bring to the table are not valued and not sought.

Ms COKER: I'd like to begin by thanking everyone on the line for the work you do in caring for people with a disability and some of our most vulnerable. My first question is for Lloyd Williams, and I just want to continue on from Senator Brown's last question. Mr Williams, you talk about the fact that unions don't have a voice at the table in terms of decision-making or advisory bodies. It's concerning in that you can just hear from the words of Kim, Katrina and Simone that you do have a wealth of knowledge to contribute. There is a National Disability and Carers Advisory Council. I was wondering: have you been invited to take part in that, and do you think that you could add value by being on that council?

Mr Williams : The short answer is: no, we haven't been invited. And, yes, we do think that we would add value because we would bring the voices of our members, similar to Katrina, Kim and Simone, who provide services directly day in, day out and they make a difference to people's lives. So we would certainly bring a voice to those, and we think that that would add value. But, as it stands, no, we are not invited to participate in any shape or form.

Ms COKER: I believe that members of that council were elected in June and I think it's something that we, the committee, should note that perhaps there needs to be an opportunity for unions and workforce to be a part of that advisory group.

I have another question in relation to the submission by the United Workers Union which recommends that the government undertake a workforce census and facilitate development of a workforce strategy with key stakeholders. I'm just wondering if you could expand on those recommendations: specifically, what should be captured by workforce census and what should a workforce strategy include?

Ms Coad : Firstly, in terms of the census, it's really about trying to get some data on the national disability workforce. Whenever there are hearings like these or other inquiries into disability it's really hard to be exact about the workforce because there just is no good data about the number of workers, the types of employment—casual, permanent or part time—qualifications, hours worked. All of that sort of information is just not available. You asked a question earlier about the number of workers who work across the disability and aged-care sector but, while anecdotally we can say that lots of our members do, we don't know because those questions aren't asked of the workforce.

There is a census that is held across the aged-care sector. At the moment it's held every four years, and that census has two components: a component where it asks questions of providers of aged care about their organisational structure, the people they employ and the basis on which they're employed; and then it asks questions directly of workers about their experience of work, their intentions and other things. Having that level of data in disability would really give us a good footing to look at workforce planning and a workforce strategy going forward.

In terms of the workforce strategy, it's really about: what are the needs of the workforce? We know it needs to grow quite dramatically, but where does that growth come from; how do we attract people; and what's the workforce plan going forward to make sure that we can improve workforce conditions in this sector so that people will be attracted to come and work in it?

Ms COKER: I was also wondering to what extent the NDIS pricing is driving the deterioration in working conditions for the NDIS workforce. How do you think this might be addressed?

Ms Coad : I can continue, if you like, and then others can jump in. There are a couple of things that immediately spring to mind about the pricing, particularly for direct support work. One is the limitation of the pricing around the capacity for workers to do things other than direct face-to-face client support. We've heard from Katrina, Kim and Simone about having to work in unpaid time because the pricing pays for them to spend that time with the client directly and not to do those other tasks that are all essential for their work. That includes things like staff meetings, peer support, training as well as administration. The price also sets the pay rate at a specific award level which providers will then argue does not really give them scope to pay above that award level even when people gain particular experience and extra qualifications as they go through. However, because the price is set with that rate in mind, it really limits their capacity to pay above and beyond and to attract people into the organisation. Others may have other things that they want to add.

Ms Gaske : I think it's pretty clear, and all the research shows, that the prices are so low that it has incentivised fragmented working hours, casual jobs, unpaid work, underemployment and underclassification in the sector. Under the current pricing, it's almost impossible to provide decent jobs because they're not secure jobs, they're not fairly paid and they can't provide the prospect of a career because of the lack of training and qualifications. The pricing also doesn't recognise the level of skill in the work or the time required to properly provide the quality disability support. I just want to reiterate: this is a crisis, it is urgent and everyone in this virtual meeting room has been talking about the solutions to this for a number of years now when we know what the solutions are. We need to attract and retain skilled workers, and we can only do that by making good jobs that deliver quality services. I urge this committee and all involved to treat the problem with the urgency that it requires.

Mr Williams : Perhaps if I could just add to that: I think we have a fundamental structural problem around workforce development. What we have is very much an immature market that is predominantly the not-for-profit sector, and they don't have strong cash flow. So there is a real inability right across the sector for employers even to work together on cross-sector workforce development issues.

The individualised funding model of the NDIS is a real problem when it comes to trying to collectivise and support workforce development across the country. So we think there needs to be another look at the one-size-fits-all funding model around individualisation, and we support that for participants. However, in terms of developing the market and a workforce to meet the market's demand, there really needs to be additional—for want of a better term—block funding for cross-sector coordination of workforce development, a workforce development plan and the delivery of training that is absolutely critical if we are to undertake market stewardship correctly.

Ms COKER: That's a good segue to my final question, which relates to portable training and leave entitlements. I found quite interesting the submission from the Australian Services Union which spoke about a portable training and leave entitlements scheme which was developed by the Australia Institute. I was wondering if you could just elaborate on the scheme; how it would operate; and the benefits that could flow from it to the disability workforce.

Ms Gaske : This is a scheme that I think this committee has actually considered and endorsed before as a way of ensuring that workers in the industry are able to get the training that they need and that it's recognised, accredited and portable and that the worker is the person who owns the training and it assists them to build their own specialisation in the industry. We think that it's of critical importance right now that we have accredited transferable training for workers in the industry.

Ms COKER: Thank you. I appreciate your expertise and sharing your experiences.

CHAIR: Mr Williams and others, I believe we've exhausted our questions. I thank you: Mr Williams, Ms Gaske and Ms Coad. I also thank the workers who've given up their time to share their experiences with us—namely, Simone, Katrina and Kim. We appreciate you sharing your experiences, coming online and talking to us about these important issues today.

Senator CAROL BROWN: Chair, I just wondered whether we as a committee could get a copy of the engage survey that Mr Williams was talking about, regarding workforce planning.

CHAIR: Can you supply that, Mr Williams?

Senator CAROL BROWN: Whether we can get a copy from DSS?

CHAIR: We'll follow that up, Senator Brown. That brings to a conclusion today's public hearing into the various inquiries being conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I thank all the witnesses for appearing via teleconference today and remind participants that supplementary material may be forwarded to the committee's secretariat. I remind witnesses with answers to questions given on notice, if we could have them within 10 days that would be most appreciated. I thank my fellow members of the committee, the committee secretariat, Hansard and parliamentary recording for their assistance with this public hearing today. On that note, I declare this public hearing closed.

Committee adjourned at 15:39