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RADIO DOCTOR CALL CENTRE CLOSURE October 30, 2008

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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As I left Wollongong Hospital this morning, after seeing the renal specialist, I could not fail to notice  at the side of the footpath a very small demonstration, but with placards. It turned out that the Wollongong Radio Doctor service has closed its call centre, which had been staffed by people with disabilities.

The workers had been made redundant on the ground that the not for profit could not afford the increase in costs caused by a change in their award conditions. They were dismissed with four weeks pay, which was, I am advised by the manager, strictly not required since they were casual employees.

The call centre was established in North Wollongong in October 2007, so it operated for approximately twelve months. Individuals obtained an extra $3 per hour and their was back pay , which I am told by the union organizer, increased recurrent costs by $30,000 per year. He looked through the balance sheet and suggested that $70,000 could be saved, including cuts to the advertising budget.

The Board of Directors, who are all doctors, have rejected these suggestions. The manger argued that the advertising budget could not be cut. That argument is superficially plausible, since the Radio Doctor service operates outside normal surgery hours, and its saves practice doctors from after hours calls for which the local doctors pay $160 per month, a fee that has not changed for the past 11 years, according to the union handout.

On reflection, the most significant comment made by the manager was that the call centre operation was not part of their core business. I did not ask what there core business was, but I imagine that would be the management and employment of after hours doctors. It looks to me as if they have given up on the idea of the call centre and employment of disabled people, and that the increase in wages was a pretext to pull the plug.

I rang my local members of parliament. My Federal Member, Sharon Bird, advised me in due course, through her front office that she was across the issues. I actually asked to speak to her off-sider but I was told that on non-sitting days he was always busy. I also rang my State Member, Paul McLeay, a person whom I have never met, whose electorate was extended to include my area in the last State Electoral distribution, and whose front office seem to act as gatekeepers.

While I am not perfect,I became angry since as am constituent I deserved some courtesy. It turns out my local State Member is now the NSW Minister for Disabilities, among other portfolios. So I sent the following email:

Dear Minister,

I called your office this afternoon at about 1.30pm and spoke to B. She could not make sense of what I was saying and hung up on me.

As I live in [in your electorate], I am perhaps unfortunately – that may be mutual – one of your constituents, and frankly I expect more professional treatment. My belief was that if I rang your electoral office it might be automatically assumed that I might be a person who lived in the electorate.

It turns out you are a relevant person as the Minister for Disabilities I should be speaking with in regard to the issue I was contacting your office about. Wollongong Radio Doctors have sacked all their call centre staff. They had employed people with disabilities in a purpose-built call centre in Wollongong. I spoke to both the Union Organizer, Rudy and the Manager, Michael, and it seems that the issue has arisen from the correct pay. The employer says that the call centre workers were paid as canvassers under s.32 of the Clerical Award, whereas the Union argued that the correct designation was Clerk Grade One. The net result was that there was an extra cost of $50,000 for this non-profit organization, whose Board of Management decided all the workers dismissed, paying them four weeks, even though they were casual employees.

I am a private citizen, so I have no particular expertise in this area, but it strikes me that there should be some kind of mediation process to preserve the very desirable social outcome of retaining the job opportunities for people with disabilities.

I was hoping that you may look into this matter and see what might be done because the outcome is such that neither of the parties desires, and nor does the wider community, especially in relation to job opportunities for people with disabilities.

I have spoken to Sharon Bird’s office and am advised that she is fully across this matter.

Thank you for consideration

Best wishes

ps. I don’t expect you need me to advise you about how telephone calls from constituents should be handled, including using listening get the story, use open questions rather than closed question, suggest a range of alternatives if clarification is required and so forth.

Since I had changes to medication, I took the opportunity to advice my local medical practice that this matter could be resolved to the advantage of the Radio Doctor service and the employees.

Employment opportunities and the benefits that accompany them are important to most people, but the employment opportunities for people with disabilities, such as blindness, are by their nature more limited. The support given by local doctors for this employment is to be appalled. I am hopeful that a way can be found to keep this option open. And I look forward with interest to the Minister’s reply, which I will duly record here.

Postscript:

Turns out my local member is not the minister. No matter I sent a covering email apologizing for the error, and requesting the contract the Member for Liverpool as the relevant minister. That is the trouble: the go now modality is not the same as check the facts again modality, but we live and fail to learn, and continue to be surprised at what happens.

UPDATE: 04 NOVEMBER 2008

My local State member has advised by letter today:

I have noted the issue raised in your correspondence and have written to my colleague, the Hon. Paul Lynch – Minister for Disability Services for his advice in this matter.

When I have further information, I will write again.

Comments»

1. Judith Ellis - October 31, 2008

Bravo, wmmbb! I so commend your efforts here. It shows active participation and what great example it is! I sincerely thank you. Complete health is desired for you. May blessings overshadow you and grace forever be with you.

2. wmmbb - October 31, 2008

It seems to me that the Board of Directors were determined to close the call centre, and that they have done that effectively. I was hoping that there might have been some funding somewhere to keep it open. Presumably this option might have been canvassed.

I suppose the best option might be to get the local media interested in the story, because I am confident that public opinion would strongly support work opportunities for disabled people.

The manager did say that they were attempting to place the people in alternative employment, but here again I did not follow up with a question about specifics.

It would be interesting to look at the balance sheet. They were not prepared to let the union bring in auditors.

As for my health, my problem is not just non-compliance with my medication, it is that I am in denial about the disease I have. I suppose that kidney disease is cumulative and chronic. I had better look for some improvement on this regime, or else step into a worst place.

Thanks for the comment Judith. My sense is that my efforts have not been effective.

3. Judith Ellis - November 1, 2008

Your efforts were indeed good. Goodness breeds goodness, even when we don’t readily see it. Plants seeds of goodness everywhere. They blossom eventually.

It is very difficult to face some things. But there is always hope and I have faith in healing. Prayers are with you. “The fervent effectual prayer of the righteous (those with pure hearts) avails much.”

4. wmmbb - November 3, 2008

My strong belief is, what little we can do, if that be the case, we must do well. We should aim always to be effective, to get results.

5. Judith Ellis - November 3, 2008

Bravo, wmmbb! I agree wholeheartedly, though often I fall short–or at least there is that sense that I could have done more. I immediately reject all thoughts of guilt once I have done what I could do.


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