Western Australia's largest disability services provider, Activ Foundation, has secured funding to keep its industrial worksites open for another 18 months, but families of the employees say it is only a temporary fix.
- Last month Activ announced that it would close seven worksites across metropolitan and regional areas in July
- State and federal funding will support the transition of Activ employees over the next 18 months
- Activ CEO Michael Heath said the funding does not fix the problem, but will provide relief
The federal government will contribute $7.8 million to enable Activ's workshops, which employ more than 750 people with disabilities, to remain open until the end of 2023.
The state government will give an extra $4 million to support Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) to find alternative work for the employees in the next 18 months.
It comes after Activ's announcement last month that funding cuts to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) were forcing the closure of seven sites across metropolitan and regional areas, including Bentley, Osborne Park, Bunbury and Geraldton in July.
A temporary lifeline
Janette Gee, whose son Ryan works at Activ's Bentley warehouse sorting headsets for Qantas, welcomed the announcement but said a long-term solution was needed.
"We’re really relieved. One of the outcomes that we wanted was a reasonable extension so that there can be a solution — perhaps another ADE could take over the Activ site," she said.
"We need to find a sustainable solution and we need to start treating these people like people, not further marginalising them."
Ms Gee said her confidence in Activ had been undermined.
"There's an overwhelming sense of relief but there's also an overwhelming sense that things aren't right still, so there's still anger, there's still resentment, and there's still work to do," she said.
"We have no faith in the organisation at the moment.
"Activ needs to either work out a sustainable business model or we need to work with other ADEs who are doing the right thing."
Amy Clark, whose brother David is also employed by Activ, said the funding was a temporary lifeline and left families worried about the future.
"My family and many others remain incredibly anxious about what awaits the employees after Activ," she said.
"Like David, working at Activ is more than a job — it’s a community where he feels supported, understood and like he belongs."
Families fear workers will be left unemployed
In a statement, Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the funding would allow a slower transition period, giving employees more time to find new work.
"During this time, all of the 756 employees may continue working with Activ in their roles, if they wish to do so, meaning they have a guarantee of continuing employment in the immediate future," she said.
"Many of the supported employees have been with Activ for decades and this announcement came as a significant shock to them.
"We need to put these employees first and make sure they receive the support they need to manage this significant transition in their lives."
But Ms Clark said while she is grateful for the extension, finding alternative employment would be a challenge.
"In the absence of Activ providing sustainable alternatives for people with such complex, significant needs, we are deeply concerned that many of these employees will be unemployed in a year, permanently losing the sense of purpose, fulfilment and connection that everyone deserves — regardless of their ability," she said.
Funding will allow 'breathing space'
Activ chief executive Michael Heath welcomed the announcement describing it as a "relief" for employees.
"We've been working hard with the government to try to get this common-sense approach to giving us a bit of breathing space around what we need to do, and so it's fantastic to have this support," he said.
But Mr Heath said the funding does not fully bridge the NDIS funding gap.
"It doesn’t change the fact that there is still an underlying issue with the funding model with NDIS, so we still need to continue to lobby on behalf of our supported employees to get some improvements in that model," he said.
"We’re very much still going to be focusing on our smaller, community-based businesses and our academy, but we know now that we can keep our workshops open for at least 18 months and it’s great to have that certainty."
WA's Minister for Disability Services, Don Punch, said the state government's $4 million contribution would help ADEs find suitable work for the Activ employees.
"Our $4 million is geared into supporting the sector as a whole, with a primary focus on those organisations who are not receiving that $7.8 million from the Commonwealth government," he said.