Disability services challenge

A RECENT study by the WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry has found an increase in the number of people with disabilities in Western Australia, a shift it partly attributes to the state’s ageing population. Commissioned by ACROD WA, the report on the study paints a bleak picture of a disability services sector struggling with a higher demand for its services, limited government funding, poor training opportunities and difficulties attracting and retaining good staff. CCI chief executive John Langoulant said of all those with disabilities requiring assistance, the study found that only 40 per cent were having their needs partially met while a further 3 per cent reported that their needs were not met at all. “This study details a number of critical issues that must be addressed by government to ensure future sustainability in the disability services sector,” he said. The report estimates that support workers will require an increase in remuneration, including an immediate “catch-up” amount to bring pay rates in the sector into line with those in the health and community services sector. It also suggests future support worker increases be linked to improved indexation on government contracts and service agreements. Nusen Haven chief executive Gordon Trewern believes the amount of ordinary earnings for staff in disability services is way below the level set for other related industries. “The frustrating thing as a service provider at the moment is when we see related public services getting a $28 per week wage increase while we get nothing. We know the government values the non-government sector, but they’re not coming up with the goods,” Mr Trewern said. The survey of employees in the sector found that, while they had high levels of job satisfaction, there was a strong belief they were not being adequately compensated considering the high workload and physical and emotional stress associated with caring for people with disabilities. Many of those surveyed also indicated they most likely would not be working in the sector in three years’ time. Mr Trewern was not surprised by these comments, as people enjoyed working in the sector, but the lack of incentives forced many to seek alternative employment. “Staff must do overtime and when this is a regular occurrence it impacts on their attitude and wellbeing as well as having a great impact on the health of the organisation,” he said. “We’re having major problems with recruitment and retaining staff because the wages are not high and we can’t market ourselves.” The report recommended that the WA Government: coordinate a ‘workforce development strategy’ for the disability sector; change the indexation rate on grants to meet the real cost of service provision; and develop a marketing strategy with an aim to lifting the profile of the sector. The study was presented to Disability Services Minister, Margaret Quirk earlier this month.

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