Rally opposes disability services privatisation

PROTEST: Ageing, Disability and Home Care workers rallied in Cessnock on Monday to voice their opposition to privatisation.

PROTEST: Ageing, Disability and Home Care workers rallied in Cessnock on Monday to voice their opposition to privatisation.

‘Save our services’ was the call of Ageing, Disability and Home Care workers who held a rally in the streets of Cessnock on Monday.

The rally was in protest of the proposed transfer of disability services to the private sector throughout NSW.

Public Service Association delegate and disability support worker Rachel Smoothy said workers, carers, relatives and friends gave up their own time to march as it is an issue they feel very passionate about.

“We are vehemently opposing the privatisation of ADHC and also the gifting and re-selling of public assets such as group homes and large residential centres such as Stockton and Morisset,” Ms. Smoothy said.

The NSW Government has proposed disability services assets may be transferred from a public sector agency to the non-government sector when National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) arrangements are implemented.

The NDIS (NSW Enabling) Act, passed in 2013, states that one of its objectives is ‘to provide arrangements for the transfer of staff to promote retention of a skilled disability services workforce and continuity of services’.

However Ms. Smoothy said by selling these assets, there will be a ‘dumbing down’ of staff as she said there will be a 30 per cent drop in workers’ pay for non-government organisations.

“We want to ask John Ajaka (Minister for Ageing and Disability Services) if he expects the same quality for 30 per cent less pay,” she said.

“We pride ourselves on being highly skilled, and to have quality outcomes you’ve got to have quality care.”

Ms. Smoothy said that through speaking to staff, she found that 60 per cent of workers will not go over to the non-government sector.

She also said the 24-hour care that is currently provided by the ADHC will be stopped once control is in the hands of non-government organisations along with certain government policies and procedures currently in place.

“Without us being there, there won’t be those [policies and procedures].”

Ms. Smoothy said the privatisation is a financial exploitation of people with disabilities.

“We believe it’s morally corrupt, they’re making money off vulnerable people,” she said.

“The government has a moral obligation to support the most vulnerable people.”

Ms. Smoothy also said she believes there is a gender issue involved in this process as the disability care sector is dominated by women.

“Our work is devalued as it’s not as important as male-dominated industries.”

Sue Dilley, who participated in the rally on Monday, has a son who has lived in a group home for 21 years.

She said this privatisation will impact him, as he has been cared for by much of the same staff for the entire 21 years.

“Routine is a big part of their life and if this happens you just don’t know who you’re going to get and if they’re going to get that quality care,” Ms. Dilley said.

She said this proposition hasn’t taken people’s thoughts into consideration.

“They’re only going on numbers and statistics; not on feelings and emotions.”

UPDATE: The Advertiser received the following response from Minister for Disability Services, John Ajaka on February 20.

Dear Editor,

Just this week I had the pleasure of meeting with clients who have transferred to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in Charlestown. Hearing their experiences of receiving choice and control over their supports was truly uplifting. 

What a contrast to the inaccuracies and fear being peddled by the Public Service Association (PSA) – most recently in your paper (18/2) – as part of their self-centred campaign to retain union membership.

Firstly, it is misleading to characterise the government’s transfer of services to the non-government sector as ‘privatisation’. This is not a money-making exercise. Under the NDIS funding for supports for people with disabilities is set to almost double. And the transfer of services will create a market which will provide true choice to consumers.

Secondly, there will be a seamless continuity of support for people, with the National Disability Insurance Agency taking full responsibility for all emergency responses, 24-hour care and other essential parts of the disability support system. 

Finally, our valued workers will be looked after - which is why, in addition to protections in the Fair Work Act, the government introduced the Enabling Act which further protects staff and their entitlements as they transition to the NDIS.

We will need every one of our existing staff, plus an additional 25,000 disability staff by 2018 to implement the NDIS – putting workers in an incredibly strong position. 

The NDIS is one of the greatest social reforms of our time – and the Baird government is intent on delivering it.

John Ajaka

Minister for Disability Services

UPDATE: The Advertiser received the following response from General Secretary of Public Service Association in NSW, Anne Gardiner on March 2.

In reply to Minister Ajaka’s 20 February response to the Advertiser’s article of 18 February “Rally opposes disability services privatisation”.

There is nothing “self-centred” about the efforts of the Public Service Association (PSA) to defend disability services. 

The union is fighting to ensure that the NSW Government does not abandon all responsibility for the provision of disability services.

Currently, the NSW Government is the largest provider of disability services in NSW with approximately a 40% share of the sector.

It is critical that the Government continues to provide those services so that clients with high level needs are properly cared for.

In addition, the union is fighting to stop clients and families being forced to new and unfamiliar private providers with no guarantees they will receive the same level of care that is currently being provided.

As for the Minister’s assertion that the transfer to the non-Government sector is not privatisation, please tell that to the thousands of dedicated workers and people with disability who are being forced - by law - from the public, to the private sector.

Any reasonable person would see that for what it is: privatisation.

The Government’s rhetoric is on increasing choice of care.

But how can choice be expanded by removing the Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care, the state’s largest and most experienced disability service provider, from the picture?

The current Government services which provide some of the most high level, expensive care, will simply not continue in the private sector.

Instead, care will be based on cost and business models rather than the specialised needs of clients.

And Minister, if only it were true that these dedicated workers are being “looked after”.

If that is indeed your aim, then these workers ask that you ensure that their existing entitlements be enshrined in a legally enforceable deed.

 Anne Gardiner

General Secretary

Public Service Association of NSW

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