Australia has historically had poor rates of labour force participation for people with a disability, ranking well into the bottom half of the developed world. One barrier to work for people with a disability in current awards is minimum shift hours. For many people with pain and fatigue, disability or mental illness, three or four hours is too much to commit to when making tentative steps into the workforce.
More than three quarter of a million people receive the Disability Support Pension, with a basic rate of payment of $797 per fortnight for a single person. Of these people, around one quarter have a primary diagnosis of a musculoskeletal condition that prevents them from working.
MOVE muscle, bone and joint health recognises that muscle, bone and joint conditions can produce crippling and disabling pain. Pain results in fatigue, which limits people’s ability to undertake daily tasks, including paid employment.
Working for shorter hours may be possible, but the three hour commitment in awards is a barrier to entering the workforce. Yet once people take a first step back into the workforce, they may be able to manage their condition and commit to more work over time.
For people medically eligible for the Disability Support Pension, allowing an exemption from minimum hours would be a simple policy change with few political downsides. The general retail industry award already has an exemption for young people working short shifts after school.
From an employer’s point of view, a short shift gives an opportunity to meet peaks and troughs, for example to cover a lunch break for other staff, at a minimal cost. It’s likely that additional employment would be generated through a change to minimum shift hours for people on the disability support pension, rather than a substitution.
A modest, targeted change to minimum shift requirements could provide a catalyst to creating employment opportunities for people living with pain, disability or mental illness. This results in a win-win situation, improved health and wellbeing for the individual, and a positive outcome for the community.
Ben Harris is general manager, policy, at MOVE muscle, bone & joint health, a charity to improve the quality of life of people living with musculoskeletal conditions.