Disability services provider urged to apologise and compensate woman for ‘artificial’ and ‘inadequate’ barista training course | Disability royal commission

A company that received nearly $1m in federal government funding has been advised by the disability royal commission to apologise and make appropriate redress to a woman employed in an “artificial” and “inadequate” barista training course that she said left her with a “broken life”.

The commission on Tuesday released its report and recommendations into the case of Disability Employment Services (DES) participant Mzia*, who was enrolled in 2019 in the BusyBeans “coffee school”, billed as a barista training course for people with disability.

The commission heard allegations in February last year that at least one of multiple BusyBeans training centres had “no established policies, procedures, safety measures or proper facilities to train the participants” and lacked basic equipment.

Mzia told the commission that on her first day she was shown into reception where a small domestic coffee machine and a container of long-life milk were placed on a computer desk. Participants at BusyBeans were “stuck in the office five hours a day, three days a week, just standing in the front of the Breville machine”.

Mzia, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was not formally qualified but had worked casually in hospitality since she was 14 years old. She told the commission she took responsibility for helping other jobseekers and developing a training program for the BusyBeans participants, “because no one else was helping [them].”

The commission heard that Mzia’s experience at BusyBeans had detrimentally affected her health, and left her with a “broken heart” and a “broken life”.

BusyBeans was run by AimBig, an employment services provider connected to health services company Rehab Management. AimBig was both Mzia’s disability employment services provider and her host employer.

This arrangement was “in conflict”, the services the company provided Mzia were inadequate, and Mzia “suffered adverse consequences as a result”, the commissioners Ronald Sackville, Rhonda Galbally and Andrea Mason found.

AimBig also “did not have appropriate processes in place to manage the conflict in its dual roles” and no clear complaint-making and resolution process, they said.

AimBig was also in contravention of its obligations under its DES grant agreement with the federal government – through which it received more than $1m for the BusyBeans program – by failing to ensure Mzia had a current job plan in place and failing to provide her appropriate post-placement support, the commission found.

“To the extent that it was cast as an ongoing employment placement,” the commissioners said, the BusyBeans program Mzia had been placed in was “an artificial arrangement” and participants in that program “were not adequately trained to support future employment opportunities”.

The report found 15 of the 56 participants in the BusyBeans program in the period 7 May 2019 to 1 April 2020 subsequently obtained employment, though it noted it was “not possible on the evidence to make a finding as to the nature and duration of that employment”.

The commissioners recommended that Marcella Romero, the chief executive and managing director of AimBig’s parent company, Arriba Group Pty Ltd, make an “unqualified apology” that “should acknowledge how and why AimBig failed Mzia as an employee and as a DES participant, and should acknowledge the impact of those failures upon Mzia”.

AimBig should also consider “making appropriate redress to Mzia for the adverse impact on her health, wellbeing and the impairment to her future employment prospects as the result of AimBig’s acts and omissions,” the commissioners said.

The commissioners also recommended Arriba Group undertake a review of its employment contracts to ensure they referred to the correct laws and awards and were delivered in plain English and in an accessible form.

Romero told the commission in February that the company “did not live our ‘people’ value” in Mzia’s case, but said in a media statement at the time that the program had placed “people with a disability into stable ongoing employment” and that she was “proud” of its results.

AimBig was one of 52 for-profit and charity-run employment services providers that were stripped of their employment services contracts with the government in August following a performance review.

The $1bn employment services program has repeatedly come under fire from critics for allowing privatised providers to refer jobseekers on their books to jobs or training courses run by a related entity.

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