The National Disability Insurance Agency has been questioned over its promotion of “Uber-style” apps that link NDIS participants with support workers.
“Matching platforms” within the scheme are not new but since the start of the pandemic the agency has begun actively promoting these apps and services to scheme participants and support workers.
The move has angered a union representing support workers, which claims these platforms undercut wages and conditions and aren’t subject to the same oversight as registered NDIS providers.
“We do have members that work for these platform providers and we regularly have issues arising around the inadequacy of their pay, the inadequacy of their training, or the complete absence of training,” said the Australian Services Union NSW/ACT secretary, Natalie Lang.
The NDIS website now lists 15 matching platforms on its website on a page titled “finding support workers”.
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Since April the agency has promoted the platforms to participants, who in some cases manage their own funds and plans, and also to potential workers seeking a “new, rewarding job in disability services”.
The models vary but the platforms generally allow workers to create a profile, listing their hourly price and experience, with participants able to select a support worker through the app. In some cases workers are rated by clients and this rating is attached to their profile.
Some matching platforms being spruiked by the NDIA are also registered NDIS providers. But others merely connect participants to support workers who are considered independent contractors, with the apps noting they are not responsible for the services provided or the conduct of workers.
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A Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the gig economy found in a report in June that “unregistered providers are not subject to audit” by the scheme’s watchdog, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission.
The report warned there was “concern and confusion about who was responsible for the health and safety of nonemployee caring platform workers”. One disability services sector peak body was worried they could “circumvent certain regulations and safeguards which exist for ‘traditional’ not-for-profit service providers, thus posing a risk to people with disability”.
Unions have accused some platforms of paying below award wages and the inquiry’s own national survey found “care platform workers estimated earning, on average, $21.60 per hour” – less than the casual rate in the award of $26.22 an hour.
But some platforms claim they enforce minimum rates above the casual award rate.
The Labor senator Tony Sheldon likened the platforms to “Uber for disability workers”.
Sheldon questioned whether the public wanted “unregulated for-profit gig platforms undermining the not-for-profit providers who pay their care workers properly”.
“Job insecurity and lack of regulation has been a disaster for aged care, and under this government disability care is headed down the same path,” he said.
Given that the NDIS is intended to operate as a free marketplace, Lang also accused the agency of “picking winners” by specifically promoting the matching platforms.
“One has to wonder when there are over 9,000 active registered NDIS providers why would the government choose this handful of providers to promote,” she said.
Asked why it was promoting the apps, an NDIA spokesman said the agency had taken steps to ensure access to participants did not miss out on support during the pandemic. This included “information for participants to find support workers through a host of matching platforms”.
“The agency rejects any suggestion it was ‘picking winners’ by taking action to provide information regarding matching platforms,” he said. “Participants continued to choose who delivered their supports and services.”
An NDIS Commission spokesperson said the watchdog regulated all providers “whether they are registered or not”.
“Some platform providers are registered, others are not,” the spokesperson said. “Whether a platform provider is required to be registered depends on the nature of their business model, which includes the direct role they may have in facilitating the delivery of supports and services to an NDIS participant.”
A peak advocacy organisation for disability, People With Disability Australia, was approached for comment.