Disability staff with COVID still working

Emily Woods |

Two disability support workers in Victoria have been allowed to keep working while COVID positive.
Two disability support workers in Victoria have been allowed to keep working while COVID positive.

Two COVID-19 positive disability support workers at a residential facility in regional Victoria have been granted an exemption by the state’s health department to continue working.

The Health and Community Services Union has confirmed to AAP that two workers, who tested positive on Wednesday, are being required to come into work at the Stawell facility over long hours, including overnight.

They are the only two staff supporting six residents, who have all tested positive to COVID-19 themselves after being exposed to a case during a one day program last week. 

At least 10 other homes in the area have been put into lockdown due to the day program exposure. 

HACSU union official Róisín McGee said the two workers have been told to go to work and then home to isolate after their shifts, with one staff member working 7am to 6:30pm and the other 3:30pm to 9:30am.

She claimed the employer contacted the Grampians Public Health Unit to obtain an exemption so the staff could continue working, provided they isolate when not working. 

She alleged the exemption was granted on Sunday, after being approved by COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar.

Under Victoria’s current rules, only workers who become close contacts of COVID-19 cases can apply for an exemption, and they must return negative rapid antigen tests to continue working.

Anyone who tests positive must isolate for seven days from the date of their test and they cannot leave their home except to get tested, get medical supplies or in an emergency.

Ms McGee said the COVID-positive workers, who work for a major disability support provider with ample access to testing, were not aware themselves of the exemption rules and that they should not be working.

“If that level of confusion is happening in the major providers, we don’t know what’s happening in the smaller ones that are sort of flying under the radar,” she said.

She said, while aged care and health had workforce strategies to address these issues, the disability sector did not.

Despite this, a recent survey by the union revealed 90 per cent of members in the disability area said they were short staffed, and half of them were short staffed “every single day”.

“This is indicative of a larger issue across the sector. We’re two years into a pandemic and the disability sector still isn’t prepared in many ways,” Ms McGee said.

“We’ve been calling for a roundtable with workers, us, the Victorian government and all the major providers, because right now there’s no workforce strategy.”

AAP has contacted the service provider, the Grampian Public Health Unit, Victoria’s health department, state disability minister Anthony Carbines and federal NDIS minister Linda Reynolds for responses.

The situation comes as the federal government announced people receiving NDIS funding can use the money to pay for rapid antigen tests for themselves and support workers.

However, online disability platform Hireup says that is not enough.

Hireup said the announcement did not give anyone priority access to the tests and people with a disability will have to cut other areas of their support to pay for tests for their workers.