Targeted plan needed to boost disability workers’ vaccination rates

CPSU NSW

NSW’s disability support workers need onsite vaccinations and casuals need paid vaccine leave to boost the low rate of COVID-19 protection in the sector, as the Community and Public Sector Union warns NSW Health must stop hand balling vaccination efforts back to the federal government’s faltering roll out.

The union wrote to NSW Health seeking urgent assistance to get the workforce vaccinated, but in a brief response were directed to federal health website.

“Disability support workers are falling through the cracks when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19. A targeted plan, that includes onsite vaccination and support for the highly casualised workforce to get the jab is urgently needed,” said Stewart Little, general secretary of CPSU NSW.

“CPSU members want to be vaccinated but they face barriers in accessing the jab, in particular concerns over missing shifts because side effects and a lack of clarity about how to access the vaccine.”

There are more than 500 group homes in NSW, including 270 in Sydney, providing accommodation and support for people with a disability. Following the introduction of the NDIS, the NSW government transferred all of NSW’s group homes to private providers, with more than 14,000 former Ageing, Disability, and Home Care staff transferred into the private sector. Since then, the workforce has become significantly casualised with staff often working across homes and with different providers – meaning the possibility of spread among group homes is high.

The union wants to see a plan from the Berejiklian government that specifically targets the disability sector amid ongoing hesitancy within the workforce. Key elements in any state-run vaccination effort must include payment for disability support workers – including casuals – to go and get vaccinated, making vaccinations available in workplaces, and monitoring the rate of vaccination in the workforce.

“While HSC students are being prioritised, disability support workers and the people they care for, are still navigating the system. We know from surveys of our own members as well as anecdotal reports that there is some hesitancy in this group about the COVID-19 vaccines – the only way to counter that is to actually directly engage with this workforce. If we begin to make the pathway clearer and easier, as well as guaranteeing they won’t be financially worse off I do think we’ll see a rise in the uptake.”

Mr Little said he’d heard of a number of near misses of COVID-19 transmissions within the sector and members expected it was only a matter of time until greater transmission among people living and working within the disability support sector.

“Disability workers know that many of the people they support are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 – there have already been a number of near misses during Sydney’s outbreak.”

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