Disability Enterprises Decision Criticised
1 May 2014 at 10:30 am
National Disability Groups and the Federal Government have criticised the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) decision to allow just 12 months for 10,000 supported employees to be re-assessed using a different wage tool.
In its long-awaited decision, the Commission decided that during the next year, Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) should stop using the government endorsed Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) and commence using the Supported Wage System (SWS) or another wage tool approved by the Fair Work Commission.
National Disability Services Chief Executive Ken Baker said: “Government and the sector sought three years to undertake an ambitious review and reform of wage setting in supported employment.
“A 12-month timeframe makes the reform process unworkable. The Commission has not thought through the practical consequences of its decision.
“Even if ADEs wanted to transition en masse to the SWS over the next 12 months, there aren’t nearly enough qualified assessors to allow them. At present, SWS assessors conduct around 5,000 assessments each year; adding 10,000 new assessments to their workload is not feasible.
“Adopting the SWS would increase wage costs by at least 50 per cent. If ADEs had to absorb this cost increase, many would close and the jobs of supported employees would be lost. The Commission’s failure to recognise this critical risk for ADEs and their employees is irresponsible.
“I suspect that the AHRC has failed to listen to the 20,000 ADE employees, their families and carers. This appears at face value to be a victory of ideology over common sense.”
Baker said the NDS would be holding urgent meetings with the government to discuss how best to resolve this matter within the unreasonably short timeline created by the AHRC decision.
The Assistant Minister for Social Services, Senator Mitch Fifield, said the Government’s priority was ensuring continuity of employment support for people with disability working in Australian Disability Enterprises.
“It is disappointing that, on face value, the decision does not provide Australian Disability Enterprises with the amount of time they need to transition to new wage setting arrangements,” he said.
“We have been working hard to resolve this issue and as part of this the Government has already announced the establishment of a payment scheme for supported employees with intellectual disability in Australian Disability Enterprises who previously had their wages assessed under the BSWAT.
“We are carefully considering the exemption decision made by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the supporting reasons, and will work through its implications.”
However, national peak disability and advocacy groups have condemned the decision by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
In December 2012, the Full Federal Court ruled that the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) used to set wages for employees with intellectual disability in ADEs was unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). In May 2013, the High Court of Australia agreed that BSWAT disadvantaged employees with intellectual disability.
In November 2013, the United Nations recommended Australia immediately stop using BSWAT.
“This is a major abuse of the human rights of people with disability,” Paul Cain from the National Council on Intellectual Disability (NCID) said.
“BSWAT severely discounts the wages of employees with disability, with some employees being paid as little as $0.33 per hour”.
Cain said that a lawful wage assessment system was available to employers now.
“The Supported Wage System (SWS) has been successfully used for over twenty years to set the wages of employees withdisability, including in many ADEs. This provides a strong safeguard against discrimination and exploitation,” he said.
“In its 20 years of operation, the DDA has largely failed to address the specific types of inequality experienced by people with intellectual disability in Australia. The AHRC decision is a missed opportunity to use the DDA to uphold the rights of people with intellectual disability.”
National peak disability and advocacy groups say they are considering their options and have not ruled out seeking a review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The groups included are: