4 minute read – Business Management Series – Job security in the NDIS
Almost a decade ago, the NDIS Act was created, and with it, a vision for a reformed care sector that would empower people with disabilities, and give them more control over the support services they can access.
While reviews from participants within the scheme remain mixed, the NDIS has had far-reaching and disruptive effects on service providers and their employees, who facilitate the care of participants on a daily basis.
A survey of 2,000 disability support workers conducted by the University of NSW, reveals the most pressing concern for those on the frontline within the NDIS, is the low pay and instability of their work.
A concern for workers, in turn, is a concern both for service providers and for participants.
But with the NDIS still being refined and control largely out of our hands, how can we address these concerns and deliver positive outcomes for providers, participants and workers?
Why are there issues with pay and job stability?
The NDIA’s ‘Reasonable Cost Model’ was designed to inform the hourly fees for NDIS support services, setting prices ‘sufficient to cover the efficient costs of a reasonable quality support provider’.
Research by RMIT and reviews by McKinsey in 2018 indicate Award conditions can’t be achieved based on the set prices.
Among other issues, the model sees payment to service providers only for hours of support provided. It does not allow for participant cancellations, training, travel and administration, among other costs.
Understandably, in response to these conditions, many service providers have looked to a casualisation of their workforce to limit unnecessary costs and to enable the level of flexibility required to meet the individual needs of participants.
Combined, these factors have resulted in worker concerns about pay and job stability.
And though the 2020 NDS survey tells us service providers have made a small move back towards permanent employment over the last 12 months, employees on the frontline continue to feel the effects of uncertainty in shifts, hours and pay and look around for jobs that offer more.
Why is permanent work so important?
While refinement of the NDIS is ongoing, at this point, the scheme continues to negatively impact various parties involved, from service providers to participants.
- For service providers: the need for flexibility limits capacity to bring on permanent staff, and this results in issues with recruitment, retention and other areas.Service providers report, both in the NDS survey and directly to VisiCase, a continued skills shortage in the industry and an inability to attract and retain enough of the right people.Inevitably, not having enough of the right people accessible or available, limits the variety and volume of services any provider can offer.
As workers move around, from job to job, trying to find optimal conditions, providers experience high turnover and incur additional costs to recruit and retrain.
- For workers: casualisation simply results in instability in their work and personal life. While flexibility is often sold as a perk, in reality, it means workers cannot predict their availability at home, with their families or socially, and cannot accurately forecast their income.These factors alone can result in additional stress and anxiety for an individual, and at an organisational level, decreased morale and productivity.
- For participants: the effect of a casual workforce is inconsistency in service and potentially decreased quality of services.An important part of care for many with disabilities, and their families, is the opportunity to know their carer and to grow to trust them.
How do we address the casualisation challenge?
If we’re being completely realistic, a lot of work needs to be done at the Government level to further reform and refine the NDIS so service providers can deliver the best possible care and support to all participants.
The Government needs to not just consider its bottom line, but to form a better understanding of the practical facilitation of these services – and all those who are involved in that process in various, currently unfunded ways.
Right now, this is where there seems to be a significant disconnect. There is an understanding on paper of what needs to be delivered and to whom, but a lack of real understanding of the full requirements of actually delivering these services to a high standard.
While disability support workers or allied health workers may be on the frontlines physically providing care, without those people behind the scenes who manage and supervise them, train them, roster them, pay them and build and drive the organisations underneath them, the services simply cannot be delivered.
Likewise, once the physical service has ended, if those workers are unpaid for case-based administration and therefore unable to take clear case notes, the quality of care they are able to provide will inevitably decline.
Add the equation a requirement for unpaid training, supervision and general administration and it becomes clear that providing care begins long before, and ends long after, a worker is physically supporting a participant.
Unfortunately, while various lobby and advisory groups continue to work tirelessly to bring about this understanding and an adequate response, services still need to be facilitated in the meantime.
RMIT and Greenacres suggest, for now, service providers need to work together, as closely as they can, with both employees/contractors and participants to find solutions that work better.
They advocate for further conversation and compromise around conditions to allow for the flexibility service providers need, and as much stability as possible, for employees – resulting in better continuity of service for participants.
This may mean determining, as a collaborative and consultative organisation, the minimum number of regular hours any part-time, flexible employee must have.
Working together to find this number ensures employees understand the needs and challenges of the organisation, and service providers understand what instability means for its people and how it can affect their lives.
They also suggest that regular consultation and review can lead to refinement of these arrangements. Analysing any employee’s work patterns after a reasonable period can help determine the minimum hours an employee really does work so the agreed minimum ‘regular’ hours can be adjusted to best meet the needs of all parties.
Working this way not only gives all parties a sense of ownership over the way the organisation manages this joint challenge, but provides a clear understanding of (and empathy for) the difficulties faced at provider and individual level.
The research, reinforced by conversations we have had with frontline workers, confirms that even having some confirmed ‘regular hours’ can make a big difference to how employees view their stability, their employer and their lives.
This can also be a valuable lesson for providers as they approach recruitment.
Rather than euphemistically pitching flexibility as a positive to an industry of people who know otherwise, offering at least a minimum volume of regular hours might increase the appeal – especially compared to other organisations that don’t.
How can VisiCase help?
Fixing these issues is clearly bigger than any one service provider, supplier or lobby group, but as the old saying goes, ‘every little bit helps’.
Optimising practices and processes with purpose-built software can help maximise efficiencies and inform workforce planning.
“Visicase offers voice-to-text for rapid and accurate case notes and can simplify the rostering process by allowing you to quickly match an employee who is available, and who has the right skills and experience,” says Colin Hoschke of VisiCase.
“It can help you get a better understanding of where you have surplus staff and where you may be short, of where demand truly lies and what is trending, so you can more accurately plan your workforce both immediately and into the future.”
VisiCase provides an NDIS-ready business automation platform, built on powerful workflows. It helps you manage, streamline and optimise every component of your business, and its modules empower a positive employee and client experience.