A prominent union says that wage theft and fraud within the National Disability Insurance Scheme is so widespread that it could be described as “a standard business model for many providers”.
So far this month, the Australian Services Union NSW & ACT (ASU) has referred two providers to the NDIS Commission, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), and the Fair Work Ombudsman for alleged wage theft and fraud, and it’s actively investigating more than 30 additional providers in NSW alone.
The ASU says the wage theft is so blatant that the NDIA’s own wage benchmarking report from 2021 and 2022 shows 10 percent of providers are self-reporting that they are underpaying disability support workers.
ASU NSW & ACT Secretary Angus McFarland said wage theft in the disability support sector was rampant.
“It’s bad for workers and is ripping off people with disability at the same time,” Mr McFarland said. “Wage theft undermines efforts to attract and retain workers in an industry plagued by high staff turnover. Without a robust workforce, NDIS participants are left without the vital support they need.
“It’s criminal to underpay staff – it’s even worse during a cost of living crisis. Next month, disability support workers on minimum award wages will be entitled to a 5.75 per cent pay rise thanks to the Fair Work Commission. I question whether the full benefit will be passed on to all workers if greedy providers continue underpaying our essential workers.”
Ripping off workers: Four case studies
A spokesperson for the ASU provided New Matilda with four anonymised examples of ASU members who were ripped off by their employers in the course of their disability support work. In several of the cases, the employees were forced to work extraordinary hours, including one who averaged between 80-100 hours per week, with no overtime penalty rates.
“Common themes these four workers experienced as a result of underpayments and working overtime/extra shifts to make ends meet included impact on their mental health, impact on their relationship with their families, fatigue, inability to evenly share caring responsibilities of their children, provider threatening workers with less shifts or cutting them if they raise concerns about pay and conditions.”
Worker A: Paid at least $3.30 per hour less than the minimum rate of pay for his entire employment period, he was also underpaid penalty rates and provided with no overtime payments, despite working well above full-time hours without proper breaks between shifts. Because the wages were so low, he needed to work 50-60 hours per week to earn a decent living. As a casual employee he did not have any access to paid leave to have a break from working unsafe hours.
Worker B: For the first year, he was paid almost $10 per hour less than the minimum wage for a disability support worker. After becoming a team leader, he was paid $8 per hour less than the minimum rate for a team leader in disability for over a year. On top of this, he did not receive correct penalty rates and was not paid any overtime penalties. The worker routinely worked between 80-100 hours every week across a five-day work week. He would often work 6pm–2pm (20 hours), per day for five days straight in a week.
Worker C: He worked as a team leader for a supported independent living house, supporting a client with complex needs and leading a team of support workers. He was a casual worker and was paid $4.50 per hour less than the minimum rate of pay for a team leader in the NDIS. He did not receive correct penalty rates and was not paid any overtime loading. He typically worked at least 64 hours per week, often without any days off. Shifts ranged between 16-36 hours in one shift, without any overtime penalties.
Worker D: He performed the work of a disability support worker, however was consistently paid $7 per hour less than the minimum rate. He didn’t receive correct penalty rates and was not paid overtime penalties. He would routinely work 160-170 hours a fortnight to make ends meet. He would work a six-day week every week, with shifts between 12 to 24 hours each.
A way forward
ASU secretary Angus McFarland said there was only so much his union could do to hold dodgy providers to account.
“Seeking justice through the courts is lengthy and workers are often reluctant, fearing they will lose their jobs in such a highly casualised sector,” Mr McFarland said.
“It’s encouraging to see the federal government is committed to cracking down on fraud in the NDIS. Wage suppression must be prioritised as part of this process. We need to prevent and catch cases of underpayment as soon as possible before providers flee the country, fold or embed this practice in their business models.
“Equal pay rates have been properly funded in the NDIS, so wage theft should be treated as a compliance issue. We are calling for a reformed system that enforces upfront requirements for providers to pass on the correct wages to workers.”
• This week, NDIS workers will rally across parts of NSW calling for solutions to improve conditions and address workforce shortages, including by stamping out underpayments and adopting portable leave and training schemes. A rally is being staged in Newcastle today (Tuesday, June 27); at the Revesby Workers Club tomorrow (June 28) at midday; and in Dapto on June 29.
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