The Albanese government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Business Council of Australia to implement a disability employment pilot scheme.
By Greg Brown
January 5, 2023
Business has struck a deal with the Albanese government to bring more disabled people into the workforce, as part of a broader plan to create job opportunities for 250,000 Australians.
Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said tackling the high unemployment rate among disabled people will be a priority for Labor this year, with just over half in work despite huge increases in taxpayer support over the past decade through the National Disability Insurance Scheme and other programs.
The government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Business Council of Australia to implement a disability employment pilot scheme, while Ms Rishworth is also flagging an overhaul of the funding criteria for disability service employment providers.
She said getting more disabled people into jobs could ease pressure on the disability support pension, which costs taxpayers nearly $20bn a year and is forecast to grow by 5 per cent in real terms over the next four years.
However, it will not contribute to the government’s aim of reducing the ballooning NDIS costs, as people remain on the scheme if they are employed.
Ms Rishworth said she was disappointed with the “stubborn” unemployment rate of the disabled, given “significant investment” by the federal government into the sector and the high participation rate of the broader workforce.
“We’ve had a lot of businesses saying they want employees and, at the same time, a lot of people living with disabilities saying they can’t get their foot in the door,” she said.
“There is a real mismatch here.”
There are 2.1 million Australians of working age with a disability, with 53 per cent in work and 10.3 per cent officially unemployed. This compares to 84 per cent of eligible workers in the broader community being in work and an unemployment rate of 4.6 per cent.
The government estimates about 250,000 people with a disability, who are not in the workforce, are “job-ready”.
The MOU will result in the BCA working with the Department of Social Services to set up a “demand-driven model” that will link disabled people to major employers looking for workers.
The $3.3m agreement – to be reviewed after a year – will also bind BCA member organisations to create an inclusive environment for the disabled and ensure there are strategies in place to see the workers rise from entry-level to leadership positions.
BCA members include the major banks as well as Woodside, BHP, Woolworths Group, Telstra, Stockland, Coles Group and Australia Post.
BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the corporate sector was ready to work with the government to “make it easier for people with a disability to get into the workforce, advance their careers and reach their full potential”.
“This is a community-wide challenge, so working together across government and business is crucial to shifting the dial and delivering better opportunities to all Australians,” she said.
The signing of the MOU followed the government and BCA announcing at last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit an intention to work together to bring more disabled people into the workforce.
With the government preparing to overhaul disability employment services, costing taxpayers $1.4bn a year, Ms Rishworth said the future system would ensure the views of disabled people were taken into account before handing out ratings.
The star ratings system – which was last month temporarily suspended after a “coding error” caused some businesses to be handed a wrong rating – is given to providers based on their ability to place disabled people in jobs.
The system affects the funding private providers receive from the government for helping the disabled into work.
“I was pretty concerned, I must say, when I realised that disability employment services’ star ratings did not actually include any experiences or voices of people living with disability,” Ms Rishworth said.
“Making sure the services meet the expectations of those living with disabilities … is critically important.”
Ms Rishworth said the employment goals would not be part of the government’s aim to reduce the cost burden of the NDIS – which is forecast to reach more than $50bn by 2025-26 – but would complement an aim of the scheme to give more economic opportunity to the disabled.
“Probably not the NDIS; it’s probably the disability support pension,” she said.
“Not all people with a disability are with the NDIS.”
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Feature image: Ms Rishworth – cyberpunk interpretation