When the pressure is on, and lots of money is at stake, you get to see the true values that underpin an organisation.
Back home we have seen, from the Federal Government, the same willingness to ignore the rules it created and is responsible for following and ensuring compliance with.
In April a $5.77 million contract, covering the period until 30 June, for the provision of “surge workforce” capacity to aged care facilities experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, was awarded to Mable. Mable is a tech platform that matches people seeking work as aged and disability carers with people or organisations seeking workers with the corresponding skills.
The contract was awarded without a tender and without any input from the relevant peak bodies; the Association of Nursing Recruitment Agencies (ANRA), the Association of Private Nursing Service (APNS) and the Australian Industry Community Alliance (ACIA).
As investigative journalist Michael West reported; Mable’s largest shareholders are Ellerston Capital, a hedge fund founded by Kerry and James Packer, and News Corp’s Scaleup Mediafund. Besides the big media backers, Mable is operated by venture capitalists Peter Scutt (ex-BT) and banker Tony Charara (ex JP Morgan).
The Saturday Paper’s Rick Morton also investigated the Mable contract. His article from last week referenced a Department of Health memo from April that was sent to nursing home providers in which it said the Department would pay up to four weeks of wages for any crisis workers employed via the Mable app.
Morton identified plenty more to be concerned about with the Mable contract, specifically:
- Exemptions in the tendering process: as a “limited tender” the contract is not subject to ordinary value-for-money checks, nor “accountability and transparency” provisions, and is also not captured by rules governing “efficient, effective, economical and ethical procurement”. Nor can the contract be reviewed which means the Auditor-General does not have the jurisdiction to investigate the contract’s efficacy in order to document, and publicly report on, what it finds.
- All care, no responsibility: Mable provides no warranty regarding the quality of care. Although Mable has insurance and says it makes every effort to check qualifications, it does not take responsibility for the information on its site being correct. In its terms and conditions, Mable says that anyone hiring a carer should check qualifications themselves as they, Mable, cannot be held responsible if the information on the site is wrong.
- Problems arise? Sort it out with each other. The Mable website states, “In exercising your choice as a client or care worker on the Mable platform, you are also accepting certain responsibilities for those choices, and responsibility for managing the relationship with your client/care workers. Whether you are a client or a care worker, where possible, is your responsibility to resolve any issues directly.”
- Geographic coverage: Sydney coverage appears sound. Elsewhere, especially in regional and rural areas, coverage is either thin or non-existent
It seems extraordinary – the government legislates to ensure that there is a rigorous process of registration and accreditation for those operating within the aged care sector. Those who meet these standards then have their standards maintained, or enhanced, by ongoing industry oversight.
Then, under the premise of a crisis, the same government waves in a new operator, owned by those with close ties to the same government, without enforcing the legislative standards that other operators have already met. The government also gives said new operator a government-sanctioned monopoly on cash subsidies for their product (ie crisis workers) without any requiring any minimum level of quality assurance for the product in return. It’s simply astonishing.
Completely ignored are long-standing and highly reputable recruitment agencies who do take responsibility for the workers they provide and do provide high levels of customer service including an effective resolution process, including a guarantee, when things don’t work out between end-user client and the agency-supplied worker.
The ANRA/RCSA was straight onto the department once the decision was announced.
When I spoke to Brooke Lord, Head of Advocacy and Policy at the RCSA, she was cautiously optimistic that the Department of Health has learned quite a lot about the recruitment industry since mid-April.
“We expressed our concern that the Department was relying solely on a tech platform when the recruitment industry has many operators who were fully resourced to provide the services sought.
“The Department said they were focused on providing a rapid response to the threat posed by the spread of COVID-19 but they were certainly willing to work with other providers”, Lord said.
“I have been encouraged with the department’s communication and responsiveness since we contacted them and I’m hopeful that this provides a solid foundation for our relationship to develop further. This type of ongoing communication from government, when the RCSA represents our members’ interests, isn’t universal across all levels of governments so this represents progress from which we can build on”
Although it is encouraging that the Department is appearing to own their their ignorance and mistakes, the whole thing is another example of those with power and influence, such a politicians, public servants and journalists, being suckered by rent-seeking mates and smooth PR-types pushing the latest tech solution (featuring “algorithms”).
The minister responsible, Senator Richard Colbeck, as Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians should be embarrassed that he has presided over such a predictable mess. He owes our industry an apology for the ignorance and disrespect he as demonstrated to our members who have provided ethical and cost-effective staffing options to the aged care sector over many years.