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.
Breaking into the employer market on behalf of our candidates may sound relatively easy, but in the age of globalisation we’ve been butting our heads against a few unexpected walls.
Exclusivity Clauses in Contracts Between Multinationals
Companies which are global multinational corporates generally have massive contracts for supply of labour or recruitment of staff. Because they operate globally, it’s cheaper for them to contract one provider who is also a multinational, to provide human resources, recruitment and temporary staff. Generally, when a contract is signed between two multinational companies for those services, there is an ‘exclusivity’ clause, meaning that no other recruitment provider can supply candidates or advertise jobs on their behalf.
This presents a bit of a problem for diversity and inclusion in employment, as global companies generally do not include a clause which specifies that candidates must be from diverse backgrounds, like our candidates. This effectively ignores the job seekers who are most disadvantaged in the labour market. Global multinationals do not specialise in diversity, nor negotiate reasonable adjustments or facilitate accessibility arrangements on behalf of candidates.
It also locks out agencies such as ours which do specialise in diversity and inclusion.
No ability for local teams to choose how they want to recruit
Another unfortunate side effect of a global supply contract is that local Australian branches of a multi national may be more enlightened, and want to recruit from a diverse range of candidates, and be ready to offer flexible working and accessibility arrangements, but because of their company’s global policy and exclusive contract with one supplier for staff and labour hire, they cannot recruit through an agency such as ours. They are locked in to a contract which offers no specialisation in candidates from diverse backgrounds.
Outsourcing labour to companies where recognition of diversity is not compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability
Despite the fact that Australia has both signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability, and the Optional Protocol, we have no control over the way a multinational company operates in terms of their compliance with the Convention. Multinational companies operate as a global entity, not subject to anything other than the law of the land in each different country. Let’s face it, businesses aren’t signatories to United Nations conventions, so there’s no obligation other than corporate social responsibility to consider the rights of marginalised workers.
About Psychometric testing …
One of the requirements of most international recruitment companies these days is a standardised psychometric test as part of the interview process. Unfortunately, psychometric testing can and does disadvantage candidates with a disability, as proven in case law in the United Kingdom, and which is specifically targeted in America by the Americans with Disabilities Act to prevent pre-employment bias. Enabled Employment argues strongly with employers to exclude our candidates from the currently popular practice of psychometric testing, as inaccurate results due to anxiety, invisible illness or other disability may be excluding candidates from consideration for employment. In fact, there are many scholarly articles which claim that psychometric testing is not an accurate predictor of performance on the job in any case. So, on top of the fact that smaller specialised agencies such as ours are locked out of multinational contracts, the recruitment practices of the companies in charge of recruitment for those multinational companies are running practices with potential bias against our candidates.
So, who can I speak to about this please?
Unfortunately, there are also technological barriers to finding the right person to speak with about providing quality candidates such as ours when a multinational with a global contract for recruitment services to another multinational uses systems which are fully automated, rather than directing an enquiry to a specific department or person.
Without being able to access the right person at a multinational company, we can’t present our business case and our arguments for diverse workforces and inclusion.
Culture and internal policy and procedures
When a global company outsources recruitment to another global company, recruitment becomes ‘someone else’s’ problem. If I’m working for a multinational, and I need a new staff member, I send an email to the department responsible for engaging new staff, and the process of sourcing appropriate candidates is undertaken by an external recruitment provider. They will source candidates from their database, and present them for consideration. If I am an enlightened manager, I may ask for a candidate that increases my workforce diversity and inclusion, which may draw a blank after all the possible candidates, have been screened by psychometric testing, and I will be presented with candidates who are not representative of a diverse and inclusive workforce. I have no choice except to go with the selection of candidates given, as I can’t contact any other recruitment provider under the terms of the global contract signed by my company.
The result is that my workforce will never truly represent the diversity of the population, and the people disadvantaged by the process will never get a look in. The internal policy of the company may be to encourage diversity, but the candidates I’m presented with won’t represent that diversity, and the workforce remains generic and lacking in difference and my global company will always recruit to a carbon copy of what I already have in my staff.
The middle management pressure point
The culture of an organisation is often set by high ideals, which is a great thing to have. However, high ideals – when talking about inclusion and diversity – may be enshrined in policy and promoted to staff, but the inevitable sticking point is not at management level, it’s at middle management level. The staff squeezed most tightly for time and who manage front line staff and tasks are the ones that will be employing diverse candidates, generally hold a misconception that people with a disability or seniors, carers, indigenous Australians or former service personnel will be ‘too difficult’ to manage given the time pressures middle managers are already under. As a consequence, despite the best intention of management to change organisational culture to become more inclusive, the sticking point becomes the middle management level who are time poor, and hold the misconception that employees with a disability will take more of their time in supervision.
It’s not all bad!
Despite these barriers, it’s really not all bad. There are provisions in some multinational corporate contracts for the inclusion of specialist recruitment providers such as Enabled Employment when the call for tenders goes out. If a corporate entity is serious about inclusion and diversity, they will require any tender for recruitment to include candidates from diverse backgrounds. This means there is a point at which a global recruiter may ask us to become part of the tender process in partnership with them, to provide candidates for roles on a regular basis, meeting the global corporate company’s requirement for a range of candidates with diverse backgrounds.
And that means that the commitment to real diversity in a workforce in at least the Australian arm of a global corporate will become accessible to people with diverse backgrounds, such as our candidates.
We continue to lobby on behalf of our candidates for better and fairer access to recruitment rounds, without psychometric testing, and we are very pleased to be included currently by several multinational companies to ensure our candidates are treated fairly.
As most of you probably know we are pretty big advocates of flexible work, we even won the inaugural Sir Ken Robinson Award for Workplace Flexibility last year from the Australian Human Resources Institute. One of the things we come across regularly is barriers to flexible work that are in old policies, procedures and even legislation. These barriers contribute to the appalling rates of unemployment and under-employment of people with disabilities in Australia. Until we can move past these restrictions on people even to ask for flexible work we won't do anything to improve the shocking statistics that are every day life for people with disabilities who want to work.
The Fair Work Amendment Act
The Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 was lauded as ensuring all Australians have the right to flexible working conditions.
This amendment to the Act enshrines the ‘right to ask’ for flexible working conditions in any new workplace or enterprise agreements in the future as a non-negotiable minimum entitlement.
The Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 gives parents, carers and people with a disability the right to ask their employer for flexible working conditions after twelve months continuous employment as either a permanent part time, or permanent full-time staff member. Long term casual workers may have the same right to ask after a longer period of time.
If you’re a person with a disability, you must be eligible for the Disability Support Pension as well.
So unless your disability is acquired in an accident of some sort or is the result of a sudden illness onset, you are expected to do 12 months continuous work for the same employer, before you have the right (in statutory terms) to ask for flexible working conditions.
In reality, all that’s changed since the Fair Work Act 2009 is that people with a disability now have the right to ask, after they have completed a year with their employer, and there is a formal process for ‘asking’, which must be in writing, and to which the employer must respond within 21 days.
How does this differ to other countries who are part of the OECD?
There are significant differences between Australian law and that of other countries in the OECD. The first is the time period elapsed before a statutory right to ask for flexible work kicks in. In the United Kingdom, for example, the statutory waiting period is 26 weeks, and anyone has the right to ask after that time, and there are no restrictions on who has the right to ask.
In Denmark, one of the best performers in employing people with a disability with flexible working, the government has taken a different approach. People with a disability in Denmark are eligible to receive the normal full amount of pay for a job, with the additional flexible working condition of reduced or flexible hours, for which an employer receives a subsidy of one third of the wage from the Danish government. People with a disability are initially employed with flexible work conditions under the scheme, and their rights to flexible working are enshrined in legislation.
In Australia, you must be employed by the same employer for 12 months, have caring or parenting responsibilities, or be caring for a family member who has experienced domestic violence, or have personally experienced domestic violence, be 55 years or over, or have a disability (and qualify for the Disability Support Pension).
There are also legislated directions on why employers can refuse a right to ask, which are specific and narrow. Australian legislation has a very broad range of reasons an employer can refuse flexible working, including ‘reasonable business grounds’.
Reasonable business grounds, the Fair Work Commission states, includes the cost of implementing a flexible working agreement, other employees arrangements cannot be changed to accommodate such a request, it is impractical to hire new employees to job share or work part-time, the change would negatively impact on customer service or a significant loss of productivity.
The bottom line remains that Australian law is more prescriptive about the right to ask as a minimum employment condition than other jurisdictions. And, particularly so when it comes to people with a disability.
What the Danish government has done openly acknowledges and encourages flexible working conditions for people with a disability from the outset of their employment. Many people with a disability are better able to manage their condition if they are able to work part-time, and from home. This acknowledgement allows the development of legislation and policies that directly addresses employer barriers to offering flexible working conditions for people with a disability.
Why do employers reject flexible working conditions?
There are many benefits for businesses who agree to flexible working conditions for their staff for any reason, not just people with a disability. Employee retention, employee satisfaction, improved productivity, less sick leave and carer’s leave taken, access to a bigger talent pool, reduced business travel, effective virtual teams, more agile infrastructure and reduced overheads. And there are many businesses and employers who realise the benefits of flexible working.
In Australia, the reasons for rejecting a request for flexible work include the term ‘reasonable business grounds’. The Fair Work Commission website defines reasonable business grounds as flexible work arrangements ‘cost’ too much, disturb other employees working arrangements, if it is not possible to hire new employees or change other employees working arrangements to accommodate the request, if there is a negative impact on either productivity or customer service. However, the Act itself does not contain a definition of ‘reasonable business grounds’, so it is open to interpretation.
To people with a disability, however, the problem isn’t the reason for knocking back a request for flexible work, it’s the extreme difficulty of accessing even the right to ask. For many people, the roadblock is simple. Many people with a disability would like to work, but without flexible working conditions their capacity to work is significantly decreased. That makes applying for jobs in your chosen field of expertise very difficult, if you’re looking for skilled work.
A Joint future
If Australia is to genuinely raise the workforce participation rate of people with a disability, there’s two parts of the economy that need to work together. Employers need to openly acknowledge, as in Denmark, that there are significant business advantages to offering flexible working conditions at the point where recruitment takes place.
And governments need to legislate the right to ask as a minimum employment condition for people with a disability right from the word ‘go’.
Without the imperative to consider flexible working arrangements, people with a disability will remain the sector with the highest unemployment rate, and business will remain office based, non-agile, and miss out on one of the best professional talent pools going.
In a democracy such as ours, community consultation is an important part of government policy making and can be a catalyst for change. Community consultation can take many forms, advisory groups, in-face meetings with community leaders at forums, calls for submissions to inquiries to establish the depth and range of issues confronting community members and how to legislate to solve the problems.
Lately, there seems to have been a rash of consultation with the community on the employment of people with a disability. Two rounds of consultation by the Department of Social Services into the reform of the Disability Employment Framework, and now a Reference Group to whom you can make further submissions. Then there’s the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination against Older Australians and Australians with Disability – the ‘Willing to Work’ Inquiry, which is now being followed up with a round of consultations by the Human Rights Commissioner on ‘Shaping our Future: discussions on disability rights’. A separate Inquiry is being held by the ACT Government on the ‘Employment of People with a Disability’
We’ve made submissions into as many of these inquiries as we can, and I am appreciative of being on the Ministerial Advisory Council on Disability and Carers.
Many submissions by the community have been made, and raising the issues confronting people with a disability for the formation of effective public policy for social change is essential. It is fantastic to see that consultation on such a wide scale is finally acknowledging there’s a problem we need to address.
What are the outcomes?
As a former public servant, I know these things take time. The formation of a New Policy Proposal can take a while. Validating proposals and testing policy outcomes prior to enacting them – such as the NDIS for example – can be a long process. Submissions for funding have to be made to the Federal Treasury for consideration in forming the Federal Budget.
It depends on whether or not governments decide to make new policy proposals in an era where the budget deficit is ballooning. Acknowledging there is a problem is the first step, but actionable outcomes are what bring change, and in forming social policy, making the right decisions by all concerned is often difficult. How do you reconcile differing opinions in the community about the right way forward, and how do you find best practice in any industry or field?
Without speculating on the federal budget, I doubt there has been sufficient time for any initiatives to be funded in this year’s budget.
Given that, what can be done to address the issues now, and whose responsibility is it?
Employment issues aren’t confined to people with a disability, as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has found. Employment discrimination is experienced by many groups in the community, including ex Australian Defence Force personnel and their family members, senior Australians, carers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
As the mandarins ponder these questions, in the light of the budget deficit, Australia has an OECD statistic that is part of the answer for people with a disability and others, to access work. The imperative to act comes not only from the community but the international community of policy makers, who wonder why in Australia, when 82.6 % of households have internet access (9th highest from 27 countries), we rank 22nd out of 27 countries reporting to the OECD in employing people with a disability.
If we had the 9th highest level of internet access in 2010 in the OECD, and were 22nd out of 27 in employment for people with a disability, why are we continuing, as a society, to stubbornly refuse to allow working from home as part of the answer to employment barriers?
Are we prepared to wait?
Employment discrimination is not a government only issue. All employers can take the initiative immediately, in the private, community and public sectors without waiting for new policy proposals or budget funding from the Australian government.
Recently, an article in the mainstream media highlighted the reluctance of some federal government to use teleworking for work/life balance for currently employed public servants. Federal Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd was quoted as saying there are some management culture, organisational culture in the public sector that presented to be a barrier for the practise of telework, and cited managers wanting to see their staff from 9-5 every day as an example.
If telework opportunities were to be made available for people with a disability, carers and seniors, and the families of those who have served, we could immediately begin to address the unemployment and non-participation rates of people with a disability in the labour market, enable carers to balance their work and their caring responsibilities, senior Australians to access work opportunities with acquired disability or illness, ensure work opportunities for people in regional and remote areas, support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to go home to country, and support the families of our Australian Defence Force personnel with access to a career path via teleworking and the possibility of not having to change employers when accompanying a partner or family on posting.
It’s time to open up the reasons that employers will consider telework. Work/life balance is not the only reason for organisations (whether public, private or community) to consider to enable people to telework. Teleworking solves access issues for many reasons, for many people. It keeps office overheads down, ensures people are safe in their home environment, and able to work while managing a disability, an illness, caring responsibilities or because they are living in a regional or remote area, or have accompanied a spouse on posting.
In a digital age, where video conferencing is as simple as using Skype, and the NBN rollout continues there really is no reason other than cultural and organisational attitude stopping us.
Time to log on, Australia.
Following on from my last blog post, I wanted to touch on another candidate group that we work with, Senior Australians. Senior Australians face a number of barriers to finding employment and this reflects our recent decision to expand to include those 55 and over into our candidate pool. Enabled Employment is in a unique position to break down these barriers and stereotypes and help those facing discrimination to find work.
When you turn 55, you become exposed to the stereotypes which are unfortunately held by many employers about your worth as an employee. Figures released by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) indicate complaints made on age discrimination are rising, the National Prevalence Survey results provide clear evidence of age discrimination in Australian workplaces. Over a quarter (27%) of Australians aged 50 years and over indicated that they had experienced some form of age discrimination on at least one occasion in the workplace in the last two years. The highest incidence of age discrimination was observed in the population aged between 55 and 64 years old.
The same survey by the HREOC found the most commonly experienced forms of age discrimination were limited employment, promotion or training opportunities and perceptions that older people have outdated skills, or were too slow to learn new things. Jokes and derogatory comments based on age were also amongst the most common discriminatory behaviours reported.
And if that’s not soul destroying enough, there’s also a 60 per cent chance you’ll have acquired a disability during your lifetime. In an ageing population, this means you’ll also be joining the ranks of people with a disability trying to access work, if you haven’t been able to retire by now. That opens up a whole new range of barriers for you when trying to find the right job. Any job.
There’s a significant advantage to employing a person with the right skill set, regardless of age or acquired disability, and investing a small amount of time in thinking about reasonable adjustment and flexible working conditions. That opens up access to thousands and thousands of Australians, who, at 55, don’t want to give up working, but may need some accessibility brokering to be able to perform to the best of their ability at work. And employers receive the benefit of a senior Australian’s knowledge, skills and qualifications, leadership skills and a loyal employee.
What is flexible working?
Flexible working conditions include a number of options. They include working from home, flexible hours, job sharing, and a results only work environment (where you have set goals, and you achieve them at your own pace at any time of day or night that suits you).
Our push for flexible working suits both people with a disability and senior Australians. The thing is, we keep repeating, if you get it right for people with a disability, you get it right for everyone.
How can Enabled Employment help?
Our company operates on the principle of ‘positive discrimination’. The categories we count as our candidates include senior Australians, people with a disability, former serving Australian Defence Force members and their supporting family, and other categories defined under Section 22 of the Anti-Discrimination Act. Everybody in our candidate database faces some sort of preconceived stereotype when seeking employment, which becomes a barrier to re-entering or entering the workplace.
What we do with the employers who advertise with us is called ‘accessibility brokering’. We’ll sit down with you and find out what flexible working conditions, aids or equipment you need to do the job if you’re successful in your application and interview, and negotiate your flexible working conditions with the employer.
As we find more and more employers who recognise that work opportunities are often limited for all the inclusion categories on our website, we change the conversation, challenge the stereotypes, and undertake accessibility brokering. This gives people a decent chance at a job, and ensures you’re not set up to fail because the right conditions are in place for you to be safe, and comfortable in your new job.
Changing the narrative
We have a long way to go in changing the narrative around our inclusion groups, and Australian employers need fresh ideas, and a new definition of ‘diversity’. While employers continue to include women, LGBTI, multicultural background and Indigenous Australians in their diversity policy but leave out senior Australians, and people with a disability, it doesn’t represent true diversity. Diversity is about reflecting the community in our society in our workforce, and no community is without senior Australians, people with a disability, or ex-Australian Defence Force members.
Until we do change the narrative – and the definition of true diversity – there remains a significant portion of the population that are disadvantaged by being unable to access work.
And it’s hard to prove. Unless you can get a specific comment in writing from a job interview that clearly is discriminatory and not a judgement based on your skill set, experience and qualifications, you have no hope of claiming discrimination. And even if you do, the employer concerned may or may not learn their lesson. Our Anti-Discrimination Act is clear in its intent, but rather toothless in applying real penalties.
We continue to advise government, policy makers and employers to change the way we think about work, in a digital age – where work is accessible to all using technology at home, and teleworking. At the same time, we want to continue to put people into work. The imperative for us to do so is business related – as we accept no government funding, we depend on putting people into work to survive as a business. Our core function is to ensure people have opportunity, and by raising the issues in public we will continue to raise awareness.
The aim of the entire exercise is to ‘normalise’ the recruitment and retention of our inclusion groups, so that it is considered by employers as a natural part of their recruitment process to ensure candidates with a disability and senior Australians, and our other inclusion groups, are specifically acknowledged in their diversity policy and their recruitment processes.
At the end of the day, it’s down to us to achieve social change. That won’t happen overnight, but we are extremely gratified to find so many businesses in Australia, so far, that agree with us.
We’re here with more than a purpose for business, we’re here to change the game, and win the hearts and minds of employers all over the country. And we’re determined to make it happen.