Calls for retention bonuses, protective equipment for disability workers

Carer advocates and unions are demanding the disability sector be given access to aged care-style retention bonuses and basic personal protective equipment amid warnings some workers would be no worse off if they were receiving the boosted dole payment.

The federal government's response to the COVID-19 outbreak included a $234.9 million retention bonus to shore up numbers of critical aged care workers in residential and home care, with payments of up to $800 after tax per quarter.

Opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said the Morrison government needed to immediately extend an aged care-style retention bonus to disability workers.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

However, disability carers, many of whom are low paid, have not received a similar payment, despite their frontline work with vulnerable people who may have health issues affecting their immune system or respiratory capacity or lack the cognitive ability to follow social distancing rules.

Heath Services Union national secretary Lloyd Williams said incentives to do paid care work were at their lowest point in decades.

"With limited access to personal protective equipment, low wages and an ageing workforce concerned for their own health and safety and the health and safety of their families, we risk seeing many leave the disability sector when they are needed the most," Mr Williams said.

Opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten said the Morrison government needed to immediately extend an aged care-style retention bonus to disability workers.

"Many of these workers are low paid, facing major risks from the coronavirus, and with the boost to the JobSeeker payment are earning a similar amount to if they joined the dole queues," Mr Shorten said.

Labor is asking the government to give disability workers a retention bonus of up to $800 a quarter for two quarters for direct care workers, up to $600 for home care workers, and pro-rata for part-time workers.

"It is not just the workers who deserve the benefits of better financial security and protective equipment, it is the people with disability they attend to who are disproportionately affected by the virus," he said.

David Moody, the chief executive of National Disability Services, said carers had been told to buy their own PPE from supermarkets and it was simply not available.

He said the sector should be treated in a similar way to aged care workers, who had access to testing and PPE in certain circumstances.

"All we are saying is that it should be available on the same basis," Mr Moody said. "They appear to be treating disability services very different to age care services. We work with people who are extremely vulnerable."

A spokesman for NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said the government had taken a number of measures to support the sector, including a one-off advance payment for NDIS-registered providers to assist in the expected temporary increase in costs to deliver support due to COVID-19.

He said financial assistance was also available to providers to help retain workers including advance payments, a 10 per cent coronavirus loading on some support services and changes to cancellation policies.

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