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RC begins Disability Employment Services case study

blue banner that reads Royal Commission hearing summary

23/02/2022

Today's hearing introduced a case study, starting with 'Mzia', a woman with ADHD who was a client of DES provider AimBig. When AimBig placed her in a job, it was as a barista trainer in a program run by AimBig’s sister organisation. This arrangement caused her stress and confusion, and the RC flagged it will consider if this caused a conflict of interest.Mzia believed the role was as a barista trainer for people with disability who were also DES participants. She said her ADHD meant she required clarity and certainty, but that there was a lack of structure in the barista program. Mzia said the expectations of the role shifted significantly over time to include assessing the suitability of DES participants for the program.The witness said it was difficult to distinguish between her DES provider and her employer, which led to several issues. The same person was Mzia’s job coach and also the job coach for the participants Mzia was training. When she suggested some participants weren’t suitable or there wasn’t enough space in the program, the job coach would intimidate and bully her, she claimed. It also meant she didn’t feel like she could speak to anyone confidentially who would advocate for her at work.A combination of events eventually led to Mzia’s resignation. After eventually progressing to managing other barista trainers under the same provider, Mzia had her Centrelink payments cut off due to her increased earnings. This was combined with a continued lack of a role clarity, she said, and feeling issues raised with her employer were not addressed. She took stress leave after her GP said she was unfit to work. Mzia said she resigned when she returned to work but her issues remained unresolved. The experience has meant she doesn’t want to be involved with a DES provider again, she said.Representatives from the Youth Disability Advocacy Service relayed clients’ stories of being placed in jobs without regard to their skills or interests. They claimed there was a lack of some providers’ understanding of disability, and a tendency to focus on labour-intensive industries instead of white-collar jobs. Some policy settings – like a focus on KPIs – put pressure on DES staff to ‘churn’ clients instead of taking the time to understand their disability requirements, identities and aspirations, they said.

Positive stories from today's hearing included DES staff who had a passion to help people find work and invested time in understanding them as a person. This required DES providers to value the right job fit and to support workers to pursue it, as well as investing in disability-awareness training and employing people with disability themselves.The hearing resumes at 10am (AEDT) on 24 February, when witnesses from AimBig and Disability Employment Australia will appear. The witness list is available on the RC website. In opening, Counsel Assisting noted Commissioners won’t be asked to draw conclusions about the broader DES system at this hearing.

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