Community services workers gain access to Portable Long Service Leave!

Abigail spoke in Parliament in support of a long awaited bill to introduce a portable long service leave scheme for community services sector workers in NSW.

Abigail said:

I contribute to the debate on the Community Services Sector (Portable Long Service Leave) Bill 2024 and indicate The Greens' support for the bill. The reform has been a long time coming. Unions in the sector and workers on the ground have long advocated for it, and The Greens have championed it for over a decade. I thank my colleague in the other place Ms Jenny Leong, The Greens spokesperson for industrial relations, for her excellent work. I also thank the union members, many of whom are in the gallery today, who have been at the forefront of this fight, advocating tirelessly on behalf of their communities to make this reform happen, namely the Australian Services Union [ASU] and its secretary Angus McFarland. The ASU has been diligently campaigning and organising around this issue on behalf of the sector for years, and I commend the union for the efforts that resulted in the bill.

The bill introduces a portable long service leave scheme for workers in the community services sector who are out on the front lines of our community every day, carrying out critical work. That includes support and service workers in areas including disability, domestic and family violence, neighbourhood centres, child safety and support, First Nations community services, welfare, financial, legal, homelessness, out-of-home care and youth support services and more. The bill's specification of community services workers in schedule 1 is broad, which The Greens welcome. We want to make sure we are not leaving anyone behind with these changes so that the entire sector is captured under the exact same scheme.

I thank the Minister's office for working with The Greens to include an amendment, which has been agreed to in the other place, to ensure that sexual assault services are not left out of this bill. That omission appears to have been a drafting error and was picked up by my incredibly diligent staff member Therese Camus. Sexual assault and sexual violence services are a part of the sector that is often overlooked and forgotten when we speak about community service jobs. Importantly, sexual assault services are not the same as domestic and family violence services. They provide specific, dedicated frontline trauma-informed support and services to victims of sexual assault through professional trauma specialist counsellors, crisis telephone and online support, referrals and more.

Ensuring the portability of long service leave will benefit tens of thousands of workers in this sector who are currently unable to accrue long service leave, which is a vital industrial right for working people in Australia. A recent survey conducted by the ASU of its members found that 57 per cent of workers who have worked in the sector for 10 years or more have never had access to long service leave. The bill will provide workers with 6.1 weeks of paid leave after 2,555 days of employment, which is the equivalent of seven years, consistent with existing schemes in Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. I also note that the Northern Territory is also in the process of introducing a similar portable long service leave scheme for community services workers.

The Greens support this shorter vesting period compared to the 10 years currently applied across other sectors as it takes into account the additional challenges and workforce nuances faced by community services workers. Jobs in the community services sector are highly feminised and have been undervalued for too long under patriarchal capitalism. But their value cannot be overstated. Governments should be doing everything within their power to entice people into these fulfilling and vital roles. But our current funding structures result in highly precarious work, with little to no continuity of contracts. Workers in these sectors are also highly responsive to the changing needs of their community and so may find themselves working across different sections of the community sector, or more often be forced to follow ad hoc funding streams and grants just to pay the bills.

The sector is experiencing rapid growth and at the same time becoming increasingly precarious, with the vast majority of frontline workers employed on a casual, part-time or contract basis. Much of the workforce operates under short-term funding arrangements and tenders, which they spend a significant amount of time, energy and resources negotiating in order to keep their doors open, constantly applying for grants and taking extreme measures to service their community. That funding uncertainty, along with often inadequate funding levels resulting in workers sacrificing their unpaid time, contributes to job insecurity and limits career pathways and resources available to support workers who wish to upskill. Additionally, many of these workers frequently change job roles or contracts within an organisation, or change organisation entirely, often working across several areas at once or over their career, like domestic violence, disability, First Nations services and more.

Considering the realities of the funding environment in which they work, the provision of a portable long service leave scheme for community sector workers is welcome and necessary. But we cannot now wash our hands of the issue or rest on our laurels. When we talk about improving rights and conditions in the community sector, the work is just beginning. Community service providers need greater certainty and continuity of funding, with rates that keep pace with or surpass hard fought for improvements to award pay rates as well as the rising cost of living and inflation. Government bears most of the responsibility to get this right, and I look forward to an improved funding model being developed.

This is particularly prevalent in disability care and support work, which has the highest levels of casualisation in the care economy. The disability care sector is also unique in its consumer-centred models of service provision, through the NDIS as well as privately and individually funded services, which allows consumers to have greater control over their levels of care, the services they access and the delivery of these services, including who delivers them, when and where. This approach has changed the face of care work in recent decades and has largely influenced the precarious style of the casual and contract-based workforce that works flexible hours, often across multiple providers at once.

Workforce studies have found that the disability sector workforce is becoming increasingly precarious, with a continued undersupply and a high annual turnover between 15 and 25 per cent. All levels of government must work together on a long-term strategy to strengthen the disability workforce in relation to worker protections as well as retention, which will also serve to maximise the quality of care that people with disability receive. It is also particularly common for disability workers to work across industries in both disability and aged care, and vice versa.

I understand that the Government has not included aged-care workers in this bill because there are existing forces at play at a Federal level, and the industry has specific regulations and oversight mechanisms. I look forward to seeing reforms to the aged-care sector in the coming years to bring the sector in line with this bill and ensure that aged-care workers are also afforded the opportunity to accrue portable long service leave. The bill also does not mandate the portability of long service leave for individual contractors. It instead has the function of opting in.

The Greens support the industrial rights of gig workers, who are themselves key workers that carry out vital frontline work in the community services sector. I note that Labor made several pre-election commitments directly addressing the needs and rights of gig workers, and I look forward to working with Labor members on these reforms in due time. It is critical that we leave no worker behind, and that includes gig workers. Ensuring and strengthening worker rights and protections is core Greens business. We have long championed the right for all precarious and contract-based workers across all sectors to accrue portable long service leave.

I look forward to working with the Labor Government to extend this scheme across other sectors, including catering and hospitality, security and other industries in which workers are frequently engaged for short periods. Right now in New South Wales, construction workers, contract cleaners, teachers and nurses all have access to portable long service leave schemes. It is time we brought the community services sector in line with these sectors. The Greens support the bill.

Read the full debate in Hansard here.

Join 50,411 other supporters in taking action