Where secure employment meets client needs

Where secure employment meets client needs
Organisation: Greenacres Disability Services

This project explored employment and industrial options that allow Greenacres to be more responsive to the needs and choices of NDIS participants whilst at the same time providing secure jobs and career paths for young people, and maintaining a permanent workforce.

Greenacres currently has a relatively low level of employment of casual workers and low staff turnover rate. They are exploring industrial and work practice solutions to ensure staffing stability is maintained as the organisation transitions to the NDIS. The project was conducted consultatively with the workforce and the Australian Services Union. Other Illawarra disability organisations were included in reviewing the working time and role redesign assumptions and alternatives to ensure the project generated a strong demonstration effect.

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    Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work, RMIT University - Fiona Macdonald

    Jobs Australia - Michael Pegg

    Illawarra Disability Alliance

    Australian Services Union

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The Context

The Illawarra region of NSW is one of the last regions to transition to the NDIS with rollout commencing July 2018. Consequently, there are opportunities to learn from the experiences of providers around the country which have grappled with the new context earlier.

The region is fortunate in also having a closely knit network of providers which operates as a sounding board and brains trust for each other’s work, so that wider sector engagement will be built into the model as it develops.

The Problem

Many disability organisations are responding to the NDIS by expanding their casual and/or contingent workforce.

NDIS pricing creates pressure to ensure almost all employee time is 'billable', that is, can be billed to an individual client’s NDIS Plan, allowing very little time for non-client facing preparation and reporting. Casual employment is used by some service providers to pay only client-facing time, and avoid paying unfunded time such as for gaps between shifts or in the event of cancellations.

It can also assist providers in drawing in specialised skills and in covering hard-to-fill after-hours and weekend shifts.

Award rules governing breaks between shifts, rostered days off and shift lengths further reduce the scope for flexibility and client responsiveness when using permanent workers. This needs to be considered against the costs and limitations of casual work arrangements. This includes the higher cost of recruitment, often high staff turnover and absenteeism and the 25% casual loading off-set other savings. Permanent part-time employment also better enables participants to have strong, consistent relationships with their workers, and provides more job security. The project concluded after comparing these factors, there is no prima facie financial case for using casual workers over permanent part-time workers.

The Solution

The premise of the Greenacres project is to resolve the challenges set out above in order to address the needs of the workforce, participants and the organisation itself as a service provider needing to survive financially.

CEO Chris Christodoulou notes:

It is about being collaborative in coming up with approaches or options that have regard to the interests of employees, participants and service providers...A good outcome for people with disability is a good outcome for workers; people who are happy in their jobs.

The project set out to develop a decision-making matrix to assist stakeholders and potentially other service providers to select the best options. Such a matrix would be one that supports good outcomes for all stakeholders and:

  • Promotes worker permanency
  • Reduces the number of casual employees
  • Responds to the needs of participants
  • Supports security of income
  • Improves flexibility arrangements
  • Achieves financial  viability
  • Is scalable (from small to large groups)
  • Is generally accepted by stakeholders

 

Expected Impact

Greenacres expects the project to lead to costed, alternative models of workforce utilisation that other providers can consider for their own use.

The models will be acceptable industrially and in line with disability best practice as a result of the research contribution to the project and the consistent involvement of unions, workers and participants and carers.

Local provider feedback will also ensure that the models have been tested from different perspectives.

Stage and Spread

The project began in June 2018 and will be was completed by March 30 2019. Within the time available, the focus has been to draw on existing literature and research to propose approaches. Practical testing of different solutions will occur outside the project timeframe.

Lessons and Insights

An interesting lesson revealed to date is that the issue of most importance to the workers at Greenacres, as expressed via the worker survey, was 'job security'. Having a core of regular minimum hours is important to Greenacres employees.

Job and income security were more commonly identified than 'regular working hours' (which was rated second in importance).

Over 110 workers answered this question in the survey, of whom around one-third were casual workers.

The research also found that casual workers often become multiple job-holders to gain adequate and regular hours. 

Separately, a carers' survey found: 

  • consistency in support workers is very important
  • but this does not mean carers want the same worker for all supports
  • for many supports, mutual familiarity, workers' understanding of participant's needs, situation and ability to communicate effectively was critical for carers; more than being able to have their exact choice of time and service variety

'Overwhelmingly carers say they and participants would like to talk directly with support workers about the timing of their services' (Greenacres progress performance report).

Roadblocks and Risks

Risks to the project included a lack of engagement from staff and/or participants and carers. To date, there has been positive engagement from all groups.