There have been times in my life where all I’ve needed is a foot in the door and a chance to prove myself. One such opportunity presented itself as a short term contract with a public service department when I was 26, and once I was able to show my worth on the job during that three month contract, I was able to demonstrate the skills and on-the-job knowledge I had learned in an interview and land the job permanently. From an entry level clerical position, I was promoted to an executive level over time.
If I hadn’t had the opportunity of a short term contract, I may not have taken this path at all. And the same goes for many others who join the public sector, or any other industry, as labour hire or short term contractors. The fact is, it’s the foot in the door we might need to prove to people that we are just as capable as anyone else.
Labour hire and short term contracts are labelled ‘insecure work’, and while those roles advertised as such provide businesses and organisations with the seasonal flexibility they might need, and provide people at a disadvantage with much needed income and experience, it is not well liked by the traditional industrial relations system. There have been numerous inquiries into the issue of insecure work over the last few years by nearly all states and territories in Australia, because there are companies which pop up on social media sites who exploit vulnerable workers.
Labour hire and short term contracts are also disliked by the traditional industrial relations system, as workers are often paid a loading on their wage rather than given leave, and entitlements are under the labour hire company’s applicable award rather than the employers enterprise agreement.
In the absence of proper and fair employment opportunities for people in our inclusion groups, ‘insecure’ work can be a desperately needed ‘in’.
Insecure work is advantageous to some people, for different reasons. For our inclusion groups, it offers firstly an opportunity to gain experience in an industry, while earning an income, and casual work (such as contracting for 3, 6 or 12 months to either an employer or under a labour hire arrangement) can also provide the opportunity to gain references, experience, and build a resume – leading to a better long term employment outcome.
Part time work suits many people with a disability who are managing a condition, carers who are balancing their caring responsibilities with working, and senior Australians who may want to work part-time as a lead in to retirement. Often, in our experience, a worker with a disability who has the opportunity to work in a non-ongoing role will not only receive the benefit of the experience and references, but will have better confidence in managing their condition while working, and better confidence in themselves and their skills and abilities.
More importantly, they will also change attitudes in the workplace, an often overlooked benefit to employing a person with a disability, opening up opportunities not only for themselves but for other people with a disability by challenging the stereotypes that exist around disability and working.
And a short term temporary role can also be a great interim measure for those leaving the Australian Defence Force, or their supporting family, who have accompanied that former Defence Force member on posting or had a forced break in work caring for children and holding down the home front while they were on active service.
Frankly, in the absence of targeted employment programs, there’s no equality in opportunity.
Employers, including government and private sector large enterprises, haven’t seen the light yet. In the absence of employment programs – such as suitably paid internships and traineeship programs – there’s no other way some people can access work opportunities.
Employers spend up on recruiting university graduates, and their first year on the job – rotating their work through different areas of their business to train them in every aspect of that company or organisation’s operations. Having invested in their training and development, and ensured their corporate knowledge is brought up to speed incredibly quickly, they have a valuable and knowledgeable worker who can be fast tracked into permanent work.
When it comes to people with a disability, ex-ADF, carers and seniors, there’s not a lot of investment going on.
Any system can fail
The enquiries being undertaken are a valuable insight into the way in which people who are vulnerable are being exploited, and they are, by disreputable companies which pop up one day on with an advertisement on social media and disappear the next. Particular industries with seasonal work are affected, such as fruit picking and retail around Christmas time.
It might surprise you to know that we comply with over 100 Acts and their associated Regulations around Australia as a recruitment company.
It becomes obvious that an unscrupulous operator in the industry can do whatever they like, because they don’t care about complying with the law. Exploiting vulnerable workers is simply too easy because the compliance is too complicated, and because people are desperate to work.
Enabled Employment’s position on insecure work
We’re arguing that if employers and government are going to cut out temporary and labour hire work, without substituting a program to hire veterans, their families, people with a disability, seniors and carers, then they’re cutting out the ‘foot in the door’ that people might need to start their career, or continue it after moving or caring for a person, or managing a condition, illness or disability.
There’s enough compliance measures built in to those 100+ Acts and Regulations around Australia to ensure there shouldn’t be disreputable and unethical operators in the labour hire market, IF the compliance is undertaken diligently by all parties. It is overly complex, though, and could be simplified to ensure better compliance.
Make sure you’re safe online
If you are considering inquiring about a job advertisement online, particularly on social media, always check the company advertising the job has a website, an Australian Business Number or Company Number, and a contact phone number. Enquire as to which Award the job is under, and what the rates of pay are – and the entitlements.
If you believe you have been the victim of a scam operator, contact the Fair Work Commission in your state or territory.
For over 4 million people with a disability facing adversity is part of everyday life. Especially when it comes to the job marketplace. Unfortunately there are still significant barriers to earning a stable income for many people with a disability.
Unemployment rates for this community are unacceptably high. This year unemployment for people with disabilities was twice as high as the general population and labour force participation was half that of the non-disabled workforce.
At Enabled Employment we believe everyone has the right to financial independence, and flexible economic opportunities should be made available to all.
That’s why today we’re announcing a partnership with Uber - to extend flexible income opportunities to thousands of of people with disabiloities able to drive on the uberX platform.
“We think the time is right for people with a disability to take matters into their own hands and manage their own income opportunities. Uber’s ridesharing platform presents a possibility to change the status quo, which has so far failed to create gainful economic opportunities for people with a disability.” - Jessica May, Founder, Enabled Employment.
We hope this partnership not only helps Enabled Employment members find well-paid income opportunities, but also encourages the 53% of people with disabilities with a driving licence to consider driving on the uberX platform.
This includes partners like Jordan who lives with Achondroplasia and chose to drive on the uberX platform to escape unemployment.
"I was unemployed for a year before I found Uber. I decided to join uber because I wanted to do something during the day while I was looking for a job. It was really hard for me to find another job because of my size, but with uber nothing like that matters.
“Joining Uber was the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only do I get to meet new people and hear funny stories, I can also start when I want and finish when I want.”
“I would recommend Uber to anyone looking for some extra money or finding it hard to find a job.” Jordan, Perth
And partners like Paul who chose to drive with Uber to supplement his income while studying computer science.
"I was born with Spina Bifida and I really should not be here (alive) to write this, let alone having the ability to walk and function reasonably well, something that the majority of people with my condition will never experience.
I have my older brother and sister to thank for my ability to walk and the most amazing mother in the universe to thank for my life thus far.
I am a chef by trade, but due to my condition I had to retire. Uber has now given me the opportunity to supplement my average wage to the point that I may continue my studies and also afford a few personal splurges here and there.
Finding a second job that allowed me to keep off my feet, not to mention being free to relax and enjoy meeting so many cool people and only do the hours I am comfortable with was impossible until I found Uber.” – Paul, Brisbane.
A lot of people with disabilities have identifiable physical signs and the potential employer may already be aware of their disability. People with mental health issues on the other hand often find themselves in a grey area and feeling anxious about what they can be open about, when and if they should tell someone, and to whom.
Mental Health and Work
The Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA) reported in 2010 that 60% of respondents felt that employment and support for seeking employment was a key concern, second only to housing. Many stated that employment was not only feasible but also key to their recovery. A 2003 analysis showed that workforce participation rate for people with mental illness was 28.2% with the unemployment rate at 19.5%; this compares to people with physical disabilities at 48% participation and 7.7% unemployment. Furthermore, MIFA also reports that people with mental illnesses are the largest group to access disability employment services and have the lowest rate of positive outcomes for securing and remaining in employment – the report cited employer reluctance, based on misunderstanding, to recruit people with mental illness.
Though there are no legal obligations to do so, there are pros and cons to informing or not informing an employer.
Reasons to inform your employer:
- Permits your employer to investigate any potential adjustments to your working pattern – an example might be necessary time off for therapy or counselling or company support programmes
- As with any other employee with a disability, employers are legally obliged to take reasonable steps to accommodate you
- Protects your rights as a person with a disability and where necessary, your right to bring a Disability Discrimination Complaint should disciplinary action ever require such an action
Reasons not to inform your employer:
- When the mental health condition does not and will not impact the job and cannot see that you will ever require reasonable adjustment
- Your right to privacy and trusting your own judgement about your condition
- Concern that being open about your condition may lead to discrimination, harassment or might affect promotion prospects
What an Employer Can Do
Employers are legally obliged to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Workplace adjustments for people with mental illness might reasonably include some of the following:
- Flexible working conditions
- The option of the employee with a mental illness to work with a mentor
- Modifying the job role to reduce stress and anxiety if the job role proves stressful
- Mental health awareness training for staff and management
- Any required physical modifications
- The offer of counselling or any other help that might assist the employee to be fully productive in the work place
Support Services and Assistance
The National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy (NMHDES) released in September 2009 aims to assist people with mental illness and disabilities obtain and retain employment. There is an annual fund of $1.2b that started in financial year 2009-10.
The Disability Employment Service is applicable to people with mental illness. It provides flexible assistance for those seeking work and for those who require help as part of employment they are already engaged in.
The Employee Assistance Fund (EAF) provides assistance and access to necessary resources for employees and employers including advice on relevant workplace modifications. The EAF is the major source of funding for workplace assistance for people with mental illness and helps with education for employers regarding mental health issues; for employees it offers special support and training packages.
JobAccess provides advice and workplace solutions for people with mental illness and their employers. The service is free and has professional psychologists as part of its team. The professional services include information on the full range of government funded services, practical working solutions and how to create and maintain a productive and healthy working environment for people with disabilities or mental illness. It can also advise on the full range of legal obligations and offers information on financial assistance.
The Workplace Adjustment Tool is an online database that gives advice on potential workplace adjustments that you might make for an employee with a mental illness – and key indicators that the staff member might be experiencing an issue. A wide range of issues are covered: depression and anxiety, eating disorders, dementia and personality disorders.
Mindfulemployer.org offers a wide range of advice for employers, especially in the realms of education and awareness. They provide regular workshops with employers in mind.
Similarly, Beyondblue.org.au covers the spectrum of mental health awareness and offers advice on making a workplace a healthy place to be for people with mental illness.
Most of the developed world is now entering economic recovery. But Australia is not doing quite as well as some other countries, and there is a looming issue with something all too common during economic growth: a skills shortage. Skills shortages also occur during economic decline but it can be more pronounced during periods of growth.
Each one of Australia’s states and territories is presently reporting skills shortages in multiple areas and the problem can come in many forms:
- Not enough qualified people to fill vacant roles
- Lack of experience of qualified people applying for those roles
- Disparity between employment package and employee expectations
- Jobs that regularly attract no applicants
- Unwillingness to relocate.
Tackling the Problem
One way to address the skills shortage is for businesses to offer better conditions and higher wages, but this is not always going to have the desired effect, especially if you are looking for people with niche skills who may not be looking for work. The newly-qualified aren't always going to have the experience you desire. There is another answer and it means changing your business practice and outlook to focus in on expanding the talent pool.
Considering the disability employment participation rate in Australia and the high unemployment rate (which means they are willing and able to work), it is apparent that there is large untapped resource available to address some of the problems that Australian businesses face.
The Advantages of Employing People With Disabilities
I have discussed on this blog numerous times the impressive statistics regarding employees with disabilities:
- They take less sick time and are just as productive as any other worker
- They stay in jobs longer (are less likely to move on which is critical in jobs that require a lot of training)
- Are willing and motivated, largely because of the low participation rate of their demographic.
A company called Gitanjali Gems of India came up against a skills shortage in the latter part of the last decade. They faced two problems:
- Jewellery manufacturing is a niche skill requiring a lot of training; and
- the industry has a high dropout rate.
Their directors decided to actively pursue potential new employees from a new demographic – a group with just 8% workforce participation and a devastating 0.1% full time employment rate. Thanks to this programme, 10% of Gitanjali Gems’ employees are now people with disabilities. There has been a noticeable effect on the company, including greater productivity and lower turnover.
Actively encouraging people with disabilities into your business has clear and measurable benefits whether you have a skills shortage or not. When you expand your talent pool as far as possible, you will see only benefits.
We have 150 highly qualified and skilled employees ready to start working for your business now, so if you're finding it difficult to recruit because of a skills shortage, think outside the square.
How many people with disabilities does your business employ?
We want to hear your examples of people with disabilities improving your business outcomes. Leave a comment below and keep the conversation going. And if you want to increase your productivity, address the skills shortage and have a more reliable and stable workforce, call us at Enabled Employment. We can help.