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Disability Payment Bill Report Divided

28 August 2014 at 11:25 am
Lina Caneva
A Senate Committee report into the controversial payment assessment tool for people with disability has delivered a divided verdict, with both the Labor and Greens parties providing dissenting reports.

Lina Caneva | 28 August 2014 at 11:25 am


Disability Payment Bill Report Divided
28 August 2014 at 11:25 am

A Senate Committee report into the controversial payment assessment tool for people with disability has delivered a divided verdict, with both the Labor and Greens parties providing dissenting reports.

A Senate Inquiry report into the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool Payment Scheme Bill 2014 and the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool Payment Scheme (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2014 was tabled in Parliament late Wednesday.

The committee chaired by Liberal Party Senator Zed Seselja recommended that the two pieces of legislation be passed however the Australian Greens and the Labor Party members of the committee submitted dissenting reports.

The Australian Greens said the Government’s Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) Bill doesn't adequately address the discrimination faced by people with disability affected by this assessment tool, or their need for compensation.

“The Greens support compensation for unpaid wages for people with disability. However, because the provisions in the Bill only pay 50 per cent of wages owed, and because of the demand for relinquishing legal rights, issues around timeframes and transparency, as well as conflict of interest in power to appoint a nominee, the Australian Greens cannot support this flawed approach,” Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens disabilities spokesperson said.

“The Bill does not adequately address or cease the continued discrimination of workers assessed under BSWAT. It seeks to provide a payment, rather than compensation to those affected and requires people to waive their legal rights before accessing this payment.

“People with a disability are severely underrepresented in the workforce in Australia, and those with an intellectual disability are especially so. With only 6.9 per cent of working age people with an intellectual disability reporting work in an open labour market it is clear that there is a distinct lack of support to help people into secure work.

“BSWAT has been found to discriminate against workers with an intellectual disability and the Greens share many of the concerns that were raised in the evidence provided to this inquiry,” Senator Siewert said.

The three Labor Senators on the committee, Senator Carol Brown, Senator Nova Peris and Senator Claire Moore said in their dissenting report that they opposed the bills in their present form as they had very serious concerns that the Bills effectively extinguish a person’s legal rights.

They said they did support the concept of the Government making a payment as an interim measure whilst it put in place an appropriate non-discriminatory mechanism to ensure people receive fair pay.

However they recommended that the Government sit down with people with disability, employers and relevant others as soon as practicable to try and resolve the matter. Labor senators on the Committee believed this approach would be in the best interests of workers and employers.

Employment law firm Maurice Blackburn welcomed Labor’s decision to oppose the Federal Government proposal to force disabled workers to waive their right to legal action in return for payment.

The Law Firm said that under the Government’s bill, workers with intellectual disability whose wages were calculated using a discriminatory tool could sign up for a payment scheme to recover part of their lost wages – but only if they abandoned their right to pursue legal action.

Maurice Blackburn is representing more than 10,000 workers with an intellectual disability on a pro bono basis in a class action claim over wages.

Josh Bornstein, a principal in the employment law section at Maurice Blackburn, said it was encouraging to see Labor pledge to vote against the bill unless its amendments were accepted.

Bornstein also welcomed Labor’s proposed amendments to include extra safeguards around the appointment of nominees to act on the behalf of disabled workers.

The full report can be found here.   

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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