On SAGE Insight: Wage theft, underpayment and unpaid work in marketized social care

From The Economic and Labour Relations Review

This article reports on research investigating underpayment of wages of low-paid social care workers under Australia’s new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The study explores working time arrangements and pay of disability support workers (DSWs) in the context of employment regulation and the new disability support arrangements.

The study demonstrates some of the ways in which disability support work is being organized under NDIS implementation, leaving employees underpaid for significant amounts of their working time. It addresses the following questions: what regulatory gaps contribute to any wages’ underpayments and what roles (if any) do the design and management of the social care system (the NDIS) play in this?

Safeguarding and quality regulation under the NDIS could be framed to ensure disability workers are paid fairly and all participants in the supply chain take responsibility, as was previously done in the road transport sector. The fact that the government is effectively the top of the supply chain body in publicly funded social care systems such as the NDIS highlights the need for embedding accountability for labor standards in public policy more generally.


Marketized models of social care provision in Australia are placing pressures on service providers and driving changes in work organisation and employer practices, with potential to degrade social care jobs. While international experience of marketized social care has demonstrated the vulnerability of social care workers to wage theft and other violations of employment laws, Australia’s relatively strong industrial relations safety net might be expected to be better able to protect these low-paid workers. Nevertheless, there is emerging evidence of negative impacts on the pay and entitlements of frontline workers in the expanding community support and homecare workforce. This study investigates the paid and unpaid work time of disability support workers under Australia’s new National Disability Insurance Scheme. The research takes a novel approach combining analysis of working day diaries and qualitative interviews with employees to expose how jobs are being fragmented and work is being organized into periods of paid and unpaid time, leaving employees paid below their minimum entitlement. The article highlights the role of social care policy along with inadequate employment regulation.

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Article details
Wage theft, underpayment and unpaid work in marketized social care
Fiona Macdonald, Eleanor Bentham, Jenny Malone
First Published February 22, 2018
DOI: 10.1177/1035304618758252
From The Economic and Labour Relations Review


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