NDIS provider workers go out to earn their pay and dignity – Solidarity Online

Support workers at NDIS supplier Bedford in South Australia went on strike for two days in late May, demanding pay equity and better treatment from management. In a separate dispute, Bedford disabled workers are also set to seek wage justice under a new deal.

According to Bedford’s website, it is “Australia’s second largest employer of disabled people”, with “1,300 customers at 18 sites in South Australia”.

Solidarity spoke with Dave Kirner, District Secretary of CFMEU’s Manufacturing Division in South Africa, about the disputes.

Kirner explains, “In the case of striking workers, they are often trades people who are supervisors, who work with people with disabilities.

Strikers are fighting to keep their wages up with inflation, but there is also an equity issue with two rewards in the workforce. “One is the Disability and Community Social Services award, and the other is the Supported Employment Services award. And there’s a 25% pay gap between those two awards. The lowest paid members want to be paid the difference.

The strikers are also standing up against ‘a culture of bullying and intimidation against workers who try to have a say in how to improve the workplace…management changes have led to a bad culture of the workplace that needs to be brought back to a more culturally progressive workplace,” said Kirner.

Equal pay

The second conflict concerns workers benefiting from the Disability Support Pension. The ongoing Federal Royal Commission on Disability has shone the spotlight on their exploitation in places like Bedford. These workers “make or do hospitality work, or make furniture or wood products, with great success. They are distributed in places like Bunnings, they are good quality products…

“We have union delegates on site. We have membership meetings there and people particularly want to get a CPI-based pay raise. But they also want fundamental changes to the supporting salary assessment tools… Overall, people really want to have equal pay for equal work.

The current productivity measurement tool “often rates you on things that aren’t really relevant to your job performance…If you were testing an average person, they’d probably fail, but it’s used here to cut salaries “said Kirner. .

“The Fair Work Commission is considering introducing a new system, which will provide increases of up to 25% in most cases for most disabled workers.

“The new salary tool will be part of the way, but then the dialogue needs to take place on how to actually get it to a point where people are paid the full minimum rate, and are not discriminated against because of their disability.

“A person with a disability [pension] who shows up 38 hours a week and is paid $14 an hour is probably paid 40% less than the minimum rate.

“There is no reason why a government cannot fund the institutions that provide this work to pay minimum wage rates in line with the rest of Australia.

“This was done for workers in this sector who don’t have a disability. There’s really no reason why this can’t be done for disabled workers in the industry.

The bargaining period for workers with disabilities begins August 1. At the time of writing, meetings were continuing over the support worker deal, and further industrial action was planned if no satisfactory outcome was found.


Fair Work Act Bans Disabled Workers From Joining Support Workers Industrial Action – Another Reason Solidarity argues that this bad law must be broken.

“Disabled workers who have supported the workers’ industrial action have asked their unions about their rights to take industrial action when negotiating their next agreement. There is certainly an interest among workers with disabilities to do so.

The dispute and the royal commission attracted many supporters. “We’ve had a lot of people calling us or emailing us saying, ‘Can we help you? Is this something we can do? And other unions said that’s good, what’s going on? Why are people so poorly paid?

So what can supporters do to help? “Getting more involved in debates and discussions. If you are a carer or a parent or family member of a worker with a disability, do not hesitate to contact a union to discuss who can become union members.

“And now we have a lot more parents who say they want to be involved in debates and discussions about collective bargaining. And they also talk about how we’re leading the debate about getting our kids into open jobs with some of the companies in Australia that offer full pay.

“We go to these sites and see how hard people work, how committed they are, how turned on they are, what a great job they do. No matter what their situation, they shouldn’t be paid less than anyone else.

By Robert Stainsby

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