By Joanna Crothers.
Many people with disabilities are still working for less than $3 an hour almost four years after Australia’s High Court ruled they were being underpaid at Government-supported workshops.
The Federal Government has committed $32 million to develop a new wage setting tool, but so far nothing has changed.
Ryan Green, a recent high school graduate, was offered a job at an Australian Disability Enterprises (ADE) workshop in Perth after doing some work experience at the factory.
ADE workshops are mostly not-for-profit organisations aimed a providing work for those with disabilities and funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.
He was being offered $2.79 an hour, which he said did not feel right.
“It makes me feel like I’m a poor [person] and I’m not able to afford what I want … and support my family,” Mr Green said.
Mr Green has a hearing impairment and some intellectual disabilities, but during his last year of high school got a certificate in gardening and automobile from TAFE.
“Sometimes they [employers in open workplaces] have to understand that they need a bit of extra education,” he said.
Mr Green’s mother Peta said he was not on the disability pension and was worried about whether he would ever be able to afford to live on his own.
She said ADE should be shut down if wages were not going to change.
“They’re just providing a big disservice and taking advantage of people with disabilities in a very big way,” she said.
She said young people were being funnelled into ADE straight from school without being encouraged to look for regular employment.
‘Wage increase would see workplaces go bust.’
The head of the country’s disability services peak body said if wages increased, supported workshops would go bust and 20,000 people with disabilities would be out of jobs.
Ken Baker, the chief executive of National Disability Services, said wages could not be increased at ADE unless the Government raised the subsidy it paid the sector, or if commercial revenue was increased.
“I would love to see supported employment enterprises with the capacity to pay a higher wage,” he said.
“[But increases] would be a recipe to close a large part of the industry and therefore put a lot of people with disability out of work, and these are people who really don’t have other employment opportunities.”
He said an independent analysis found if wages increased by 20 per cent, then three quarters of employment organisations would be operating in deficit.
Wage tool needed to measure productivity.
An old government tool used to determine how much disabled workers were paid was ruled discriminatory in 2013 after a complaint was made to the Human Rights Commission.
Kairsty Wilson from AED Legal Centre said disabled workers were still waiting for an appropriate tool to determine their wage.
“You’ve got to have a wage tool because otherwise you’re discriminating against these vulnerable people,” she said.
Mr Baker said stakeholders were testing out another way of assessing the productivity of a disabled worker but could not give a time frame on when it might be rolled out.
Maurice Blackburn has started a representative class action on behalf of thousands of workers at ADE.
It was expected to settle on December 12.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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