Rapid antigen tests for disability workers in NSW’s group homes are welcome but overdue, with the Community and Public Service Union of NSW warning the Perrottet government to provide a surge workforce and retention pay amid a crisis in the sector.
CPSU NSW wrote to NSW and Commonwealth ministers warning of there was a COVID-19 crisis in NSW’s privatised disability sector with workers forced to put themselves and those they care for at risk of infection. The union said while government-supplied RATs for staff were welcome, the workforce crisis the sector faced required a response similar to that seen in the aged care sector.
"In year three of the pandemic, the disability sector was already facing burnout and staff shortages before Premier Perrottet let Omicron rip,” said Troy Wright, assistant secretary of CPSU NSW.
“RATs for workers are an overdue intervention in a sector that’s been left to fend for itself for the past two years. Workers in the disability sector are burnt out - we need an urgent surge in workforce and retention pay, similar to the aged care bonus.
A new survey by the CPSU NSW (PSA) found workers are not being provided with RATs (and are being told to find their own), many are not being issued with appropriate PPE, and most are not being given relevant information about infections at work.
A survey of workers in the NSW disability sector has found that
- Only 3.2% reported having access to RATs for themselves
- 3.2% had tests for the people they support
- 72% said they wore full personal protective equipment at all times
- 22% said they wore PPE only when there were known COVID-19 cases
"Now NSW's most vulnerable, who can't necessarily wear appropriate PPE or socially distance, are being unnecessarily exposed to a virus which they're more likely to end up in the hospital from than the rest of the population.
"I am hearing stories from members of only finding out there are COVID-19 cases at the group home once they've arrived for a shift. We're hearing from members telling us their employer doesn't have enough PPE or any tests for them.
“In one case I heard recently, a psychologist refused to see a disability home resident because the resident couldn’t be tested for Covid. This resulted in the resident not receiving an updated behaviour plan and new meds — and then that resident assaulted a worker.
"Service providers don't want to speak out about the crisis in the disability sector because then they risk losing lucrative contracts but we're facing something worse than aged care."
The CPSU NSW has urged every disability service provider in the state to maintain minimum isolation standards for close contacts, due to the intimate nature of the work of most disability sector workers.