DESPITE earlier promises that the NDIS would be an employment bonanza for disability workers, almost 500 people are set to lose their jobs in the closures of the Stockton, Tomaree and Kanangra disability centres.
As well as the 126 nursing jobs revealed in Thursday's Newcastle Herald, another 350 positions are to go by the end of next year, including doctors, nursing managers, clerks, disability support workers, support officers, day program staff, tradespeople, drivers, security staff and kitchen hands.
Nurses at the centres told the Herald yesterday that the mood at work was bleak, with one saying that staff felt like they had been "kicked in the guts for having the dedication to care for their patients until the end".
The main unions at the sites, the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association and the Public Service Association, are holding branch meetings from today to gauge the views of their members.
Nurses union organiser Nola Scilinato said people were "deeply angry and very disappointed that they were being treated so shabbily".
Both sides of NSW politics voted for the legislation that the Coalition government is using to close the three centres, but Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said last night that he had written to the new Disabilities Minister, Gareth Ward, urging him to reconsider the staff cuts.
Mr Crakanthorp said the move by Family and Community Services was at odds with promises made by the previous minister, John Ajaka.
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"On March 18, 2014, Mr Ajaka told parliament: 'To address concerns held by some staff, I have met with representatives from the Stockton branches of the [two unions] and I reiterate that this government will provide continuing employment for all those who want it.'
"I encourage the minister to honour this promise with continuing employment.
"If, however, the government does proceed with sacking these staff, they must all have full access to redundancy packages," Mr Crakanthorp said.
Staff told the Herald yesterday that the nature of any redundancy package remained uncertain, because the email from FACS head office that told them of the job cuts was contradictory and unclear.
While the text of the email addressed nursing jobs only, a "change management plan" attached to the email included a "draft" list of 476 positions to go in an "employee impact table" included at the end as an appendix.
"So the non-nursing staff found out they were going through reading the fine print," one staff member said last night.
Additionally, the only mention of redundancy in the body of the email came in a section that appeared to apply to assistants in nursing (AINs) only.
The email said that "FACS will . . . manage staff according to the Managing Excess Employees policy which includes provision for redundancy payment".
The attached change management plan says the government wants to "minimise . . . redundancy costs". Although many of the unwanted workers have been in their jobs for decades, the policy tops out after only six years of service.
The maximum payment for forced redundancy is listed as 20 weeks pay for those under 45, and 25 weeks pay for those over 45.
Asked to clarify the redundancy position, FACS said "standard government processes" would be used to help the affected staff find other government work, with redundancy payments "a final step".
PSA regional organiser Paul James said it was clear that the entire NDIS structure was under financial pressure and the organisations who would be looking after the Stockton, Kanangra and Tomaree residents in their new group homes would be trying to cut costs wherever possible.
About 100 residents, or a third of the total, are moving to group homes outside of the region, and nurses were asked in March to nominate for jobs in places as far away as Dubbo.
But Wednesday's email appeared to rule out these jobs, saying it would "not [be] feasible for staff based in the Hunter to commute to these work locations".
While all registered nurses and most AINS have jobs, none of the 76 endorsed enrolled nurses (EENs) will be going to the group homes.
"In all of this we had no indication that we would lose our jobs altogether," one EEN said.
"I cried when I read that letter. It was disgusting. And the families will be expecting us to go into the homes with their people."
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