The peak body for non-government disability organisations says the Tasmanian Government is not doing enough to support the employment of people with disabilities.
National Disability Services (NDS) said an agreement signed with the Government last year to make it easier for government agencies to procure the services of businesses which employ people with disabilities has not worked.
Anita Donald has a job at Self Help Workplace, an organisation which is part of a network of disability enterprises providing employment for people with disabilities.
On Tuesday afternoon, she was busy packaging tea bags for a Hobart company.
Self Help Workplace employs 52 people in Launceston but it’s more than just about having a job. Employees are making social connections, says Anita.
“[I’m] meeting all different friends and meeting everybody and having good people to sit beside you,” Ms Donald said.
Her co-worker Shanai Tubb agrees.
“I love it here, all the employees, all the staff, it is just wonderful here,” she said.
Self-Help Workplace general manager Donna Bain said her organisation was one of about a dozen Australian Disability Enterprises (ADE) in Tasmania.
ADEs employ about 500 Tasmanians with disabilities, offering services as diverse as cleaning and gardening to making pegs for surveying works.
“There is a wealth of services that Australian Disability Enterprises provide that the Government could in fact buy from us,” she said.
The problem is the State Government is not buying their services.
“If we had more work and consistent work we could employ another five to 10 people here at self help workplace,” Ms Bain said.
Last year, NDS signed an agreement with the State Government which was supposed to make it easier for government agencies to procure the services of disability enterprises.
A year on, NDS state manager Will Kestin said nothing had happened.
“Although it is a suggestion to the procurement departments of the State Government to use Australian Disability Enterprises, there is nothing that actually mandates them to utilise those services,” he said.
Mr Kestin said NDS recently tried to intervene when a disability enterprise lost the government cleaning contract it had held for several years.
It was awarded to an interstate commercial company, which does not employ people with disabilities, and quoted a cheaper price, he said.
“Without the parameters dictating to the procurement departments to use disability enterprises, what we have is the job going to the lowest bidder.”
Government ‘needs to take a lead’
Ms Bain said it was a disappointing outcome.
“We are really looking for the Government to take a lead on this,” he said.
Mr Kestin said disability enterprises were already struggling due to funding changes under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“They are in dire need of contracts, not just from government but also from businesses from across Tasmania.”
Mr Kestin said if disability enterprises are forced to close, the people with disabilities they support will be out of a job.
The New South Wales Government has set a target, he said, for government agencies to procure the services of businesses leading to $33 million in contracts.
“It is really important, that we work as a state as a whole but with the State Government to set that example,” he said.
During the state election, the Opposition set a procurement target of 2 per cent, phased in over five years.
“What that would do is give the sector certainty to invest in their businesses, to buy equipment,” Opposition spokesman Josh Willie said.
“They would have certainty that a certain percentage of the state budget is going to come their way each year.”
“We need to make sure the State Government is setting the example for private enterprise to procure the services of disability enterprises.”
No plan for quotas
Ms Bain supports the introduction of quotas.
“A quota is a really strong measure of accountability and it says to the community and to the Government, ‘Yes, we are committed to procuring from ADEs’,” she said.
But a Government spokesman said there was no plan to introduce quotas for the procurement of services for ADEs.
“However the Government’s Buy Local Policy sets out requirements to increase the number of buying contracts for Tasmanian small and medium enterprises,” he said.
He did not respond to a question asking how many contracts the Government has with ADEs.
“State Government Agencies do not specifically identify contracts awarded to ADEs and are not required to report any contract less than $50,000.”