Essential disability workers call for govt support as Omicron continues to surge

The Australian Services Union NSW/ACT has called on state and federal governments to provide urgent aid to disability support workers as Omicron continues to hit the health sector hard. Photo: Australian Services Union NSW & ACT/Facebook.

By TILEAH DOBSON

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on an already overworked health system, with different sectors struggling to keep up with every new rule the federal and state government introduces.

At time of writing, 2,776 Covid victims were in hospitals across the state, with 203 in ICU and 61 requiring ventilation. While most hospitals are receiving priority assistance, many sectors across the health industry have been forgotten or pushed aside.

Those who work in the disability sector have been crying out for assistance since the beginning of the pandemic. With Delta and Omicron in the mix, they’ve been desperate for help from the government.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) has called on the NSW and Australian governments to provide crucial support for disability workers. They’re asking for paid isolation leave, priority booster shots and the provision of usable PPE.

Conducting a survey, the ASU discovered that out of 700 members, one in ten members working in the sector has contracted Covid since November. Of those who caught it, more than one in five – 23 per cent – did not have paid leave and could not access government support.

Worryingly, 13 per cent helped a patient whilst knowing they were Covid positive last month, 30 per cent of members did not have appropriate PPE and less than half were given RAT tests.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic. Photo: Marcus Paul In The Morning/Facebook.

These alarming statistics are only scratching the surface of an overworked and underappreciated sector. It’s for this reason that ASU NSW/ACT (Services) Branch Acting Secretary Angus McFarland has written to NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, requesting urgent support.

“Our members are under extreme pressure due to the current Covid outbreak. They are on the frontline, putting their own health and wellbeing at risk to support vulnerable people and communities,” McFarland said.

“As a result, they are getting infected with the virus or becoming close contacts and having to take time off work without pay.

“The NSW and Commonwealth Governments’ welfare payments are clearly not fit for purpose and a universal isolating leave scheme is required urgently. Essential disability services workers and those who rely on them should not have to suffer because the Commonwealth and NSW Governments failed to plan before unleashing Omicron on the community.”

Federal Minister for Government Services and the NDIS, Senator Linda Reynolds, was hit with scandals last year – most infamously, her dealings with sexual assault survivor Brittany Higgins – and is now under fire over the government’s Covid-19 response. Photo: Senator Linda Reynolds/Facebook.

The sentiments were echoed by Rose Abu-Saleh who works in disability services as a specialist support coordinator. Working in the industry for almost two years, Abu-Saleh has been unimpressed with both the state and federal governments’ lack of support.

“The health sector in general have been left behind. I do believe the disability field is one of the major fields in the health sector that has been left behind,” Abu-Saleh said.

“Covid has made it difficult to see my participants, as many of them live in group homes and visitors were not allowed. Many participants also do not know how to use technology and/or do not have the adequate technology.”

Abu-Saleh said the lack of support not only endangers the workers but the patients as well.

“I have recently had to isolate as four of my family members have developed Covid. I’m also aware of many support workers/participants that have had to isolate, and it has impacted them greatly,” Abu-Saleh said.

“Furthermore, I think it’s important to note, that during Covid, a lot of participants’ health deteriorated, especially those [who] have psychosocial disability. Service providers lost a lot of workers due to Covid and the need to isolate, and were not able to keep up with the demand required as many people needed more services rather than less during this time.

“Allied health providers were unable to visit participants as well which meant that many of them were not able to receive the consistent treatments that is vital to their journey,” she said.

Tileah Dobson is the news and LGBTQI+ editor of the Sydney Sentinel.