Unions are fighting for disability workers to be paid a COVID-19 care allowance to compensate them for the impact of coronavirus and recognise their role as essential workers.
The full bench of the Fair Work Commission is currently considering an application to vary the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award to pay an hourly $4.94 allowance to employees who have to work with clients who are infected with, or suspected of being infected with, coronavirus.
It would apply from May until the end of September.
The unions argue in their application that disability sector workers are more vulnerable than other workers in relation to the pandemic and that the allowance would recognise the changes they need to make to work practices to protect themselves.
They say providing an incentive would also help prevent workplace shortages and ensure people with disability continue to receive adequate care.
During cross examination on Monday National Disability Services (NDIS) CEO David Moody said members had told him that requirements for increased infection control made their jobs more physically demanding.
“The advice from NDS members who have had to deal with participants directed to self isolate has been that the changes in work procedures are significant and difficult for the staff who have to implement them,” he told the commission.
HSU National Secretary Lloyd Williams said disability support workers needed to be properly recognised and know that the government had their back.
“Disability support workers have been largely left behind by the federal government in terms of its support for other essential workers,” he told Community Care Review.
“We believe a low cost allowance in these circumstances is the right thing to do and sends a strong and positive message to those support workers that we appreciate the work they are doing.”
Opposed by business groups
The application is being opposed by employers groups including Australian Business Industrial, the Australian Industry Group Ai Group and the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries, who argue the allowance would be unfair on employers, many of whom have already experienced a downturn.
“(It) would impose a significant additional cost on employers in circumstances where those employers rely on Government funding,” Ai argues in its submission.
They also argue that COVID-19 is no different to other infection control situations like the flu, something Mr Williams described as “staggering and insulting”.
Community Care Review understands that there have so far been 10 cases of COVID-19 reported to the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission and two deaths. Eleven disability workers have contracted the virus and there has been one death.
Justice Iain Ross has adjourned the matter until next Monday, May 12.