Contractors dealing directly with National Disability Insurance Scheme applicants were untrained and not equipped to deal with complex and emotional cases, an insider has revealed.
- The public sector union claims some of the workers have no background in disability services
- A well-placed source said many applicants had mental health concerns, some “complex and severe”
- A recruiting company says the NDIA is responsible for training
New figures show nearly 1,000 labour hire employees are working for the NDIS.
Third-party companies are being thrown tens of millions of dollars to employ these staff.
But the public sector union claims some of the workers have no background in disability services, and are paid “significantly less than the public servant sitting next to them”.
One former labour hire employee said their team conducted assessments that “angered participants” and left employees “in tears”.
“We had no training in these tasks, apart from some short scripts provided to introduce assessments,” they said.
The assessments, done by phone and face-to-face, feed directly into how much funding and support a person receives.
The well-placed source said many of the people had mental health concerns, including “complex and severe” psychosocial disabilities.
They said questions to participants included whether they had friends, while carers were quizzed about children’s menstrual cycles.
“During an in-person assessment, a participants’ carer became very upset by the questions and told me that she already felt suicidal and ‘these questions aren’t helping’.”
The person worked for recruiting company Hays until the end of 2016 but did not raise the concerns with the company’s management, saying contractors “can so easily be let go”.
A Hays spokeswoman said the federal department in charge of the NDIS, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), was responsible for training.
“If any employee was to raise with Hays a concern about a lack of training for a specific role, we would contact our clients to discuss what additional training they might need,” she said.
“If any temporary worker was to advise Hays that they required any assistance or counselling due to the nature of their role, we offer access to an employee assistance program.”
‘Just churning through labour hire contractors’
The NDIA last year conceded that other external employees, known as Local Area Coordinators, were creating plans before being rubber-stamped by bureaucrats.
Community and Public Sector Union secretary Nadine Flood said participants “aren’t getting the service they deserve”.
“Churning through short-term, profit-based contracts, with minimum training and experience, is just not good enough, either for the people doing the work, or the people relying on the service,” Ms Flood said.
“They are just churning through labour hire contractors, getting staff who have no background in doing public service work, no background in the disability sector necessarily,” she said.
“The labour hire workers are not getting the full pay and conditions they should be getting, because that’s also going into profit.
“The community expects better than that from the Commonwealth Government.”
Labour hire firms paid $7.7 million in a few months
From July to September 2017, $7.7 million was paid to 13 labour hire firms, a Senate Committee was recently told.
Hays Personnel Services collected $3.5 million during the period, Chandler Macleod pocketed $1.5 million, while DFP Recruitment Services earned $1.2 million.
During the 2016-17 financial year, $19 million was spent on labour hire.
The disability agency employed 902 labour hire employees at the end of September 2017 — up from 842 at the end of June.
The NDIA itself employed 2,329 public servants at the end of 2017.
The agency argues this mix of public servants and external contractors is vital, with the scheme set to grow rapidly over coming years.
“This has provided the NDIA with both the flexibility and skills required to deliver … the significant national reform, the first of its kind,” a NDIA spokeswoman said.
“The NDIA provides contractors access to the same training and development as APS (Australian Public Service) staff fulfilling similar roles.
“Labour hire contractors complete induction, role-specific training, and mandatory training packages, as required.”
The agency acknowledges that pay rates for labour hire employees can be lower than its own staff.
But the spokeswoman said the hourly rate for contractors “on average, is comparable to the equivalent APS employee hourly rate”.
The NDIA announced late last year it was working to overhaul the planning process, and would move to scrap over-the-phone planning meetings.