People with disability are missing out on vital services as a large number of the sectors aid workers have been forced into COVID-19 isolation across the country.
Health and Community Services Union official Róisín McGee said as many as 20 percent of carers were furloughed as they are either isolating or sick with the virus, which sent “dangerous” signals to workers.
“This industry has already been cut to the bone, but staffing numbers are now at the minimum safety level,” McGee said.
“It’s dangerous for workers and worrying for people with a disability who need support.”
“The staff who are still working now—they’ve worked through pandemics, lockdowns, seeing their colleagues get sick and maybe die. And now they’ve seen their fellow employees burn out and leave.”
In Victoria, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) screening check—which ensures workers do not present an unacceptable risk to participants—had been delayed to up to 12 weeks, the union official noted.
“The NDIS check is important, but it can’t come at the expense of disabled people’s care,” McGee said.
The situation was also observed in Tasmania, where major NDIS provider Able Australia has acquired only seven rapid antigen tests for Tasmanian staff, the Guardian reported.
This was “simply not good enough,” the national director of engagement at Able Australia, Chandi Piefke, said, noting the state has over 100 staff and clients, and Australia has been three years into the pandemic.
“The standard channels which apply to health and aged care don’t seem to be available to the disability sector, which is really disappointing,” Piefke told the Guardian.
This has added more pressure on some disability service workers who said they did not have access to any government grants even if they had to take time off work after contracting COVID-19.
“Our members are under extreme pressure,” ASU NSW/ACT branch acting secretary Angus McFarland said.
“They are on the frontline, putting their own health and wellbeing at risk to support vulnerable people and communities.”
“As a result, they are getting infected with the virus or becoming close contacts and having to take time off work without pay.”
According to a survey of 700 Australian Services Union members, among NDIS staff who caught the virus, 23 percent of them had to take unpaid sick leave.
At the same time, the disability service staffing shortages had put the lives and health of thousands of vulnerable people at risk, People With Disability Australia president Samantha Connor said.
“We’ve had reports of people not getting basic assistance for days on end, people sleeping in their wheelchairs because there’s no one to help them get into bed,” Conner noted.
There have been calls for the sector to have priority access to free rapid antigen tests like their aged care counterparts so that carers can prove they are able to provide service to clients without queuing for hours for a PCR test and days for the result.