‘Uberisation’ of the disability sector threatens provision of care
6 July 2022 at 5:14 pm
A new report finds the digital contracting model, which has grown over the past five years, is “unsuitable” to the disability sector.
People with disability could be put at risk thanks to the rising “Uberisation” of the disability sector, according to a new report.
The Contracting Care: the rise – and risks – of digital contractor work in the NDIS report, commissioned by disability services organisation Hireup and conducted by think tank Per Capita, reveals that the gig economy has arrived in the disability sector with companies operating models similar to Uber.
According to the report, a 2020 survey of NDIS workers found that 5 per cent have found work via an online platform, up from 1 per cent five years ago.
And in June 2021, the Senate Select Committee on Job Security said there was potential for digital contract work to spread within the disability sector.
What’s wrong with the model?
The report says this model is unsuitable for the care sector, presenting risks for people with disability as well as the workers themselves.
The platforms that connect workers with clients in this new gig-style approach “act purely as intermediary platforms… [taking] no responsibilities regarding the safety of the work environment for workers, or the quality of the work provided to the participant beyond a basic safety level”, according to the report.
While they do evaluate contractors, the platforms “are structurally unsuited to manage emerging risk and to carry out strong risk reviews”, the report says – and the platforms don’t take on the legal risk for workplace health and safety (WHS)..
There may be fewer opportunities for workers to undertake structured training, which would impact the standard of care and service delivered to people with disability, the report states.
The short-term nature of such work means workers and NDIS participants may not be able to build the trusting relationship needed to deliver care.
The report cites the 2018-2020 Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce, which found “there were ‘legitimate concerns’ about the impact of digital contractor platforms on the care services sector, particularly in relation to health and safety, insurance, unpaid work, and the training needs of the workforce”.
NDIS participants with lower decision-making capability may be unable to make informed decisions on the care or support person they choose from a contractor platform.
Use of the platforms opens NDIS participants up to the potential to legally be considered employers of contractors under so-called ‘sham contracting’, where a business or individual hires someone as a contractor but they actually work as an employee. The report refers to a 2019 Federal Circuit Court finding that two labour hire companies had supplied disability support workers as independent contractors when they were really employees. While there haven’t yet been any similar cases involving NDIS participants or digital contractor platforms, it’s a potential consideration for future – and if an NDIS participant was considered to be the employee of the worker, the participant would become liable for things like back pay and contributions to superannuation.
And, although many contractors offer lower costs through digital platforms, which at face value can reduce the cost to NDIS participants, they may incur related costs such as “a higher likelihood of less qualified and experienced workers on offer, a lower rate of care continuity, and increased potential liabilities for the service user”.
Modelling in the report suggests digital contractors would retire with significantly less superannuation, and the report also notes they have fewer protections like sick pay or parental leave.
But the gig economy model does offer the benefit of flexibility for workers, the report adds.
Regulation needed to address ‘unsuitable’ model
Ultimately, the report argues that “digital contracting is fundamentally unsuited for the requirements of the disability sector”.
In a statement, Per Capita executive director Emma Dawson says it is critical government regulation and oversight is put in place to stop digital contracting degrading the disability care sector.
“Turning our disability care sector into an Uber-style business sector is a recipe for disaster. Decent care work is essential to the long-term stability of both our disability care economy and society. Our research shows that contracting out care leads to a contraction of care,” Dawson said.
“The government needs to have the right controls in place to ensure it gets the balance right. People with disability need the flexibility to be able to choose the supports that work best for them while also ensuring the quality of care isn’t degraded by a system set up to benefit tech companies, rather than workers or the people accessing the services.
“At the moment, the only people winning here are the shareholders and private equity investors of the contractor tech platform themselves. People with disability are being treated like a commodity and workers are being forced into a race to the bottom.”