Monday, March 28, 2011

Victorian Government backdown on Fair pay for communty sector workers: Will the Barnett Government be next?

Once again the not-for-profit sector has been betrayed by a government that made all sorts of promises about the importance of the sector and the need to address the problems of funding shortfalls and low wage.

The newly elected Baillieu Government in Victoria has backed away from a promise made before the election to fund a pay rise for the community sector workforce should it be ordered by Fair Work Australia.

In its submission to Fair Work Australia in relation to the Equal Remuneration Case for Community and Social Sector Workers, the Victorian Baillieu Government warned of possible cuts to jobs and services if it has to fund a large pay rise for the female-dominated workforce.  The Australian Services Union brought the case before Fair Work Australia (FWA), and is seeking a pay rise for community and social sector workers – a workforce which is predominantly female. The case is based on a 2009 Queensland decision to award pay rises to such workers of up to 37 per cent over three years.

The online publication Pro Bono News reports that
....Victoria’s Not for Profit sector has reacted angrily, pointing to the election promise made by the Minister for Women’s Affairs and Community Services Mary Wooldridge to fund the pay rise even it went over the budgeted $200 million over four years.
In its submission to FWA, the Victorian Government says that that contrary to the unions’ submission, it ought not be assumed that all governments have undertaken to fully fund the unions’ claim in the event that it is granted by FWA.

It says the Victorian Government estimates that this year it will provide $1,568 million funding for SACS workers wages.
It says the pay rise sought by the union means the cost to the Victorian government of funding SACS workers will be in the range of between $700 million over 4 years (if an 18% rise is ordered) and $1,700 million over 4 years (if a 37% rise is ordered).
The submission says the Victorian Government’s public commitment of $200 million over 4 years to support the decision by FWA is consistent with their election commitment of responsible management of the State's finances, which includes maintaining an operating surplus of at least $100 million each year without pushing up debt.
The submission says depending upon the extent of any wage increase granted and the prospect that any increase in wages may not be fully funded by the Commonwealth Government, this may mean that there will be a “gap” between the rates of pay prescribed by FWA and the funding of the sector.
It says this gap may result in a reduction in services which in turn may have an impact on the numbers of positions in the sector, and / or on the hours of work available to workers employed in the sector.
The Government submission says evidence provided by Lincoln Hopper from Mission Australia demonstrates that there is a possibility that the claim, if granted in full or in part, will have adverse effects on employment, hours of work and service provision in the SACS sector.
It says Mission Australia employs 1,052 people who would be affected by an equal remuneration order, which would see the organisations salary costs rise by a total of $3.735 million per year, affecting the organisations ability to employ people and resource projects.
In a pre-election interview with VCOSS, CEO Cath Smith just a couple of days out from the 2010 Victorian State Election, Liberal member for Doncaster, Mary Wooldridge said the Liberal Government would fund the pay-rise even if it cost more than the estimated $50 million per year.
In the interview, Wooldridge said the Victorian Coalition fully supported the pay equity case, and would support the decisions of Fair Work Australia and would be passing them through in their funding arrangement.
She said the Victorian Coalition was very clear that they believed this needs to happen and that they would be funding the outcome.
The Australian Services Union says the Baillieu Government backflipped on the election promise in their submission to Fair Work Australia, stating that any unfunded increases would have to be paid for by reducing services and jobs.
ASU Assistant Branch Secretary Lisa Darmanin slammed the recent announcement, saying it is an insult to hard-working, mostly women community workers who the Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge promised - on the eve of the state election - that a Coalition government would value their work by funding and supporting the equal pay claim at Fair Work Australia.
Darmanin says the Baillieu Government’s submission is effectively saying that equal pay for these workers needs to be paid for by cutting services to the most disadvantaged in our community, or make those working in it work harder by reducing staff.
VCOSS CEO Cath Smith says she expects the government to honour its pre-election commitments to community sector workers.
With the Victorian State Budget to see an estimated $46 billion in transaction revenue over the next 12 months, Smith says there must be room in the budget to fund this key election promise.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The consequences of social and public policy that transfers the burden of risk and care to families and individuals

Cam McKellar tells a profoundly moving and shocking story about the burdens placed on his mother and family by public policy and social policy driven by economic and market imperatives, bureaucratization and the transfer of risk, responsibility and care to private individuals and families.
My brother has an intellectual disability. He is autistic and he can’t speak. He makes noises and flaps his arms. He’s different and he’s charming. He’s demanding and he needs daily care.

My mother cared for him for most of his life. The sheer intensity of his needs bound them brutally together. 

She feared that if she died, my sister and I would be bound to him in the same way, so everyday she worked to win his independence. 

At first we found small freedoms — a meal without screaming or food flung in frustration; a visit to friends that didn’t end in an apology and a hurried exit; a rare, blissfully uneventful evening out for my mother, a bus ride together, and then years later, miraculously, a ride alone on the bus.
My mother believed in my brother. She loved him and she fought for him. 

If she were alive today she’d still be caring for him and as an aging carer she’d still be ignored by the state and federal government disability services. She’d still be reliant on family and friends to shoulder the burden of care.

She’d be forced by yet another agency to prove and categorise my brother’s disabilities in order to receive the smallest of concessions. She’d be even more exhausted, even more isolated.
She’d be told that in a country debating a super-profits tax, there was not enough public funds available to sustain my brother in community accommodation. 

She’d be turned away because she would continue to cope and would not give up her son.
She’d be turned away because she was not "in crisis". 

As my mother lay dying from cancer, I spent the last precious weeks of her life in furious negotiations with NSW disability services fighting to establish a system of care for my disabled brother.

Last week the Productivity Commission released its draft report into Australia’s disability support services. If the Commission’s recommendations had already been implemented in those precious weeks, our lives could have been so much less desperate. 

As it was, the calamitous reality of NSW’s underfunded disability sector forced me into a terrible dilemma — either abandon my brother to become a ward of the state, or take on his full-time care for the rest of my life. 

This was exactly the same awful predicament my mother faced 30 years ago and spent half her life trying to resolve. It’s the same predicament families and other carers of people with a disability all over Australia face today. 

The Productivity Commission’s draft report confirms that the current disability support system is chronically underfunded. Services are haphazard, inefficient and dependent on irregular state revenues. 

The system is characterised by a siege mentality; carers must literally desert those under their care to receive consistent support. Mindful of state budgets and the intense desperation in the community, workers within the system will only allocate scarce resources to those families or individuals in crisis or where a long-time primary carer has died and there is no one in the family to replace them.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Death of disability advocate and practioner Wolf Wolfensberger

My friend and colleague Erik Leipoldt has written this piece on his blog in memory of the academic and disability advocate Professor Wolf Wolfensberger who died recently. As Erik points Wolfensberger was one of the most influential thinkers and practitioner in the disability field worldwide and his work had a significant effect on the lives of people with disabilities. Wolfensberger's ideas changed  the way professionals, policy makers, governments and service providers think about and respond to people with disabilities.

Erik writes:
"Dr Wolfensberger had a strong commitment to people made vulnerable in a society where individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism reign. He made a huge contribution to people with disabilities. He was a visionary, a devastating analyst and honest critic.

......In 1999, seven major developmental disability organizations in the US proclaimed Dr Wolfensberger one of the 35 parties that had been the most impactful on "mental retardation" worldwide in the 20th century. Dr Wolfensberger's work was also recognised by the US magazine 'Exceptional Parent' as one of the great 7 contributions to the lives of people with disabilities, along with Salk and the polio vaccine, braille, Americans with Disabilities Act and the wheelchair.

.....He was perhaps best known for developing social role valorization theory from his, and Nirje's, concepts of normalisation. Social role valorization has been taught to many using and running disability services, and applied to various degrees, in government policies and service practice.

.........Dr Wolfensberger also developed the concept of citizen advocacy, facilitating long-term relationships between a person with disability (or other vulnerable people)and a volunteer citizen.

.............Many people who have disabilities have benefited from his work in a change in focus from disability as a medical issue, or captives of care to one where a good life means living with others and in settings that are normally valued in our society. His work was instrumental in the deinstitutionalisation of thousands of people with disabilities. It has informed disability advocacy. I am aware that in his own life he personally modeled compassionate service to 'needy people', a much used Wolfensberger phrase."