Protest actions over services for disabled
by Rohan Gowland Intellectual disability services workers are taking action in Victoria and NSW, as services are cut back or being privatised. In Victoria, up to 3,000 disability workers went on strike last Thursday over cuts to staff, cuts to services, individual contracts and a 14 percent pay claim. Under the Kennett Government, staff hours have been reduced by one third and staff are now often forced to use their own time (unpaid, of course) to give their clients the necessary care they require. The dispute stems from discussions for a new enterprise agreement, but the union says that wages is the least important issue and is "open to negotiation". The main issues are the cuts to staff hours and the effect on services, the increasing casualisation of staff and the Government's push for individual contracts. In NSW, staff and parents of people with intellectual disabilities are planning a rally for September 7 in protest against government plans to privatise of group homes. Senior Industrial Officer of the Public Service Association, Ayshe Lewis, told The Guardian that parents and workers are angered by the Government's surprise announcement of its privatisation plans and that there was no consultation whatsoever. They say the plans raise a raft of unanswered questions and are insisting the Government address their concerns before it proceeds any further. How will the private sector ensure that all its staff are adequately trained? Will the Government continue to fund the extra clinical support services that are currently part of government disability services? For parents of the disabled requiring long-term care, how can a suitable long- term service be guaranteed when the private contracts are limited to three years? Ms Lewis said that the Government, by saying it is a "budget decision" has shown that the incentive for contracting out the group homes was merely to save costs for the Government. In the Department of Community Services (DOCS) there are 2,000 permanent, plus 2,000 temps and casual employees — all of whom face an uncertain future. Non-government care organisations presently offload clients onto government services if they become more difficult to handle. The private homes are expected to be able to have the "right to choose" to no longer provide care for clients who they deem too difficult. The Government has tried to reassure parents by saying that every disabled person will have the right to be provided with care from DOCS (Department of Community Services). But, this is rather meaningless if the majority of DOCS services are no longer there. DOCS will be left providing a "second tier", welfare, safety net service. The Government's plan is to privatise up to 75 per cent of DOCS' group homes over the next three years. The first round of contracting out will begin in October with 41 group homes put out to tender. Ms Lewis said the Government will need to get rid of 19 homes by December before $4.8 million drops out of the DOCS budget in January. The rest of the 41 would have to be privatised by July, 2000, when a further $12 million will be cut. The protest rally on September 7 will assemble at Hyde Park at 11.30am, march to Parliament House with a rally there at 12pm.