Victoria in Focus by Sarah Fordyce, State Manager Vic
As we move through autumn, this is a time of adjustment for many disability services. While the community continues to open up and in-person events resume, many services report that they are grappling with extreme workforce shortage, concerns about the wellbeing of staff after two years of the pandemic and increasing worries about economic viability. Organisations continue to respond to the ongoing prevalence of COVID-19.
NDS advocates for the sector
NDS is raising awareness of these challenges facing disability services at both state and national levels.
Along with the NDS State Chair, Laura Collister, I recently met with the Victorian Minister for Disability, Minister Carbines. We spoke about the impact on providers of NDIS cost-curbing, widespread workforce challenges and shortages, and developments in the quality and safeguarding space. We welcomed the new Disability State Plan and spoke to our asks in our budget submission, and specifically for continued Victorian government engagement with the disability sector and the NDIA. We also discussed concerns about the economic viability of some disability services, widespread concern about the mental health and wellbeing of staff, and the impact of occupational violence.
Nationally, the NDS campaign Teamwork Works, which aims to protect the integrity of the NDIS, is gathering momentum as we head towards the Federal election. The campaign calls on all candidates leading into the election to commit to the integrity of the scheme and to oppose moves that weaken the NDIS. Victorian providers are participating in the campaign in a number of ways. Find out about how you can get involved by visiting teamwork.org.au
Addressing workforce shortages
NDS members continue to report that workforce shortages are a top concern, and NDS is engaged in a range of related initiatives.
We are partnering with RMIT’s Skills in Practice (SKiP) project. This is offering employers an opportunity to secure new disability support workers, who are pre-screened and supported with accredited training. The SkiP project includes a mentoring component, with knowledgeable mentors with experience of the disability sector providing ongoing support and coaching for both employers and new recruits. Feedback from employers about this project has been excellent, and SkiP is now seeking more disability services keen to sign up to the project and engage new workers. The SkiP project also involves opportunities to upskill existing workers and leaders to ensure ongoing retention of great disability workers. To find out more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or Tahlia Seedy at submit enquiry/feedback
Our popular workforce webinars, delivered through our partnership with SACS Consulting, are continuing over coming months. At our request, SACS has made all the NDS SACS workforce webinars available on a dedicated disability-focused web page. These cover topics such as workforce planning, candidate attraction, and leadership in tough times.
Delays with NDIS checks continue to cause frustration. NDS is working with the Victorian Worker Screening Unit to ensure that organisations facing significant staffing issues, including COVID-19-related furloughing challenges, are fast-tracked through the system. Requests for application prioritisation can be sent to submit enquiry/feedback with the applicant's full name and date of birth. NDS continues to advocate for updates to the application system, and has successfully secured a streamlined volunteer application process which replaces the previous two-step fee waiver and application process.
In another workforce related development, the Victorian Government has introduced a Sick Pay Guarantee scheme, providing casual and contract disability workers with five days a year of sick and carer's pay at the national minimum wage. This applies to workers who provide general household assistance, emotional support, care and companionship for disabled persons in their own homes. Following our recent update about this initiative, the government has clarified the definition of “their own homes” to include other residential settings including residential aged care, supported independent living, and specialist disability accommodation where a person lives.
COVID-19 support is ongoing
We continue to support providers as we transition from pandemic to endemic COVID-19. Positive cases continue to impact the sector with both workers and people with disability affected through infection or as close contacts. This highlights the importance of ready access to funded Rapid Antigen Tests for workers in all disability settings. We are encouraging the sector to ensure they are fully vaccinated as we head into winter, and to advocate for workers and participants to access a flu vaccination, with health experts warning of a bad flu season in 2022.
Facing economic challenges
Our polls have also highlighted that providers are concerned about their economic viability, primarily due to increased staff costs and lower income. Providers are reporting that since January 2022, financial positions and forecasts have been further negatively impacted, building on existing concerns about 2022 performance before the Omicron wave. Business and operational conditions have arguably worsened.
The pandemic has accelerated several trends in the market, and NDS expects to see an increasingly competitive, dynamic disability market. We are in unsettled times, however, the sector has demonstrated great resilience, collaboration and adaptation over the past couple of years, and there is an opportunity to build on these qualities to effectively respond to the challenges ahead.