My sister and her family recently moved to a town in Queensland. Both her and her partner found work with business that are using apps to schedule out their work. 

For her partner it's working out well, he's in the transport sector, a job comes up, an alert is sent out and whoever is available grabs it. I haven't spoken to him so I'm not sure of the ins and outs, but it's working for him; although no doubt there is an advantage to being someone that is quick on your fingers and used to staring at your phone all day long ;)

For my sister however, her experience in the Community Care sector has been much more concerning. Like her partner, her new job also came with an app and "Uberesque-model" of scheduling and allocating work - and the approach raises serious privacy, workplace rights and technology concerns - including recommendations for her to join a union. 

I've worked with many organisations supporting them to navigate tech in this sector over the past eight years, and I've watched how the My Aged Care Gateway and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) policy development has unfolded. And from a technology and people point of view there is a lot to be concerned about. 

You don't need to look too far to see monumental IT stuff ups in the Government sector - #CensusFail or SA Health's Enterprise Patient Administration System (EPAS) for example.  

And you don't need to look too far to see wasted IT dollars on a much smaller scale across the not-for-profit sector.

My sisters experience points to a deeper problem that may bring organisations that are already in uncertain times toppling like a deck of cards.

The first job she started working for used an app to schedule and alert staff about shifts, and it is designed to allow staff to accept or reject jobs. Her immediate problem was that the information she saw was different to the information the administrator scheduling the software saw. This lead to frustration on both sides when she was contacted for not being at a job two hours prior - she hadn't received a notification and it wasn't on her scheduler for the day. When the admin person again tried to push the job through my sister didn't see any address information - what both parties were seeing was out of sync. 

This wasn't the only problem with the system, and the other problems come down to broader questions about workers rights. On her first day the person chaperoning her advised her to join a Union, for both of them it wasn't something they had done or even considered doing previously. However, from the chaperones point of view the way the organisation was scheduling work, and in particular the time when mileage started being automatically tracked in the app was a problem - with the concern that it was programmed to commence calculating mileage after a set period of time, rather than when travel to the job actually commenced. If mileage is being underpaid it becomes a Fair Work issue, the programming or settings of an app are a deliberate and considered decision, technology teething problems doesn't exonerate this. 

Then there is the requirement to have your own phone and credit or internet access. Recently the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the inadequacies of the Centrelink Telephone Allowance for low income earners, surely telecommunication costs are an issue for many in the care sector. To what extent the requirement to have access to an app and allow GPS tracking on your phone makes it your phone costs tax deduction is unclear and needs advice from an accountant - the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) couldn't provide an answer when I tweeted them to ask.  

Another concern is privacy. And in a digital age we should all be much more concerned about this. The app my sister had to use featured GPS phone tracking - in fact her chaperone deliberately hadn't updated to the latest version because this was only in a new update. What right does your employer have to put GPS phone tracking on your phone? It's very different if they are supplying the phones, but in this cases (and I assume most cases now) they are not. 

Think of the problems that having GPS tracking on staff can cause. Is GPS tracking disconnected at the end of a shift? Who is the onus on to stop the tracking? Where is that data stored? How is data connected to an individual? What if the data gets hacked? What about the privacy of the people receiving the service? And to be blunt, if their software is so badly developed that they can't even schedule a staff member adequately why would anyone have confidence that these issues had been thought through and planned for. 

There are serious issues to workers rights that need to be addressed here. My understanding is that the chaperone has been in contact with the Australian Workers Union, but considering we are heading into uncharted waters, I personally don't hold high hopes that policy is going to move fast enough to catch the cat that's already been let out of the bag. 

My sister left the organisation very quickly, there was too much insecurity and incompetence, and she was paying for childcare and getting uncertainty over the amount of work she would receive day to day. She quickly got another job and is very happy. The organisation lost a great worker, and it looks like they will lose many more. Neither side wins unless these serious issues are able to be clearly and concisely resolved. 

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Nov 7, 2016 By lyndsey

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