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Aussie Employers Urged to Lift Disability Wages

1 December 2014 at 9:34 am
Xavier Smerdon
Australian employers have been urged to offer more opportunities to people living with disability following the defeat of a controversial Bill in the Senate.

Xavier Smerdon | 1 December 2014 at 9:34 am


Aussie Employers Urged to Lift Disability Wages
1 December 2014 at 9:34 am

Australian employers have been urged to offer more opportunities to people living with disability following the defeat of a controversial Bill in the Senate.

Last week newly Independent Senator Jacquie Lambie used one of her first votes since leaving the Palmer United Party to reject the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) Bill.

The Australian Greens said at the time that the Senate rejected the BSWAT Bill because it failed to address fundamental discrimination against people with disability.

"The clear message from the people with disabilities and peak disability organisations was that this Bill should not pass Parliament, and I am glad that the Greens were able to help deliver that outcome," Australian Greens spokesperson on disability issues, Senator Rachel Siewert said.

"Compensation for people with disability who have been paid unfair wages under the flawed BSWAT process must be a priority, but this Bill failed to deliver a fair outcome.

"It would have paid only 50 per cent of the wages people are owed and would have demanded they waive legal rights to pursue compensation through the courts before accessing the payment.

Social Policy Agency JFA Purple Orange CEO Robbi Williams said following the rejection of the Bill that it was time for mainstream employers to look at what they can do.

“All it will take is one in 100, just 1 per cent, of Australia’s businesses to provide proper waged jobs to the 20,000 Australians  living with disability currently disadvantaged in very low paid sheltered workshops,” Williams said.

Williams said it would be wrong to conclude the Senate’s decision will lead to thousands of people being stuck at home with nothing to do because of the consequential demise of Australian Disability Enterprise model.

“I don’t think it would be fair to scare people like that because it’s not true; fear should not be the reason to keep these sheltered workshops going. This is about replacing the ADE model with a more effective mechanism,” he said.

“Though well-intentioned, ADEs can be harmful to a person’s life chances because that person can get trapped into a cycle of very low paid work that dramatically undervalues their potential contribution to Australia’s economy and society.”

Williams said there were two main problems; first that ADEs pay very low wages.

“It is a reasonable hope and expectation that every adult Australian can find their way to employment where a fair wage then funds their life choices.  But this simply doesn’t happen for many Australian adults living with disability,” he said.

“I have seen many people living with disability become trapped in ADEs their entire adult working lives, earning maybe three or four dollars an hour, and never having a proper opportunity for a fair living wage and the life choices this can fund.”

He said the second problem was about workplace diversity, because a person living with disability working at an ADE will generally only be working alongside other people living with disability on the same low rates.

“This is a multi-million dollar industry that routinely puts people living with disability into groups where, apart from other workers living with disability, the main people in their working lives are those paid to be with them,”  Williams said.  

“Most working Australians are in workplaces that give much stronger opportunities for broader social connection and belonging, and this brings the possibility of a much richer life.

“In the Australian economy there are over two million trading entities. If just one in every hundred of these businesses – that’s just one percent – were to offer one fair-waged job to a person living with disability currently at an ADE, that would result if 20,000 job opportunities and we would no longer need ADEs.

“That’s all it would take – one job for every one hundred Australian businesses.”

Meanwhile the Abbott Government was spruiking that Disability Employment Services (DES) providers would be able to directly offer the Restart wage subsidy for mature-age workers to the employers they deal with from 7 December onwards.

“More than 500 job seekers aged 50 or older have signed up to Restart since its inception across Australia on 1 July this year, which is a terrific result,” Minister for Employment Senator Eric Abetz.

“The programme provides employers with up to $10,000 (GST inclusive) if they hire an eligible 50-plus job seeker and retain that person for two years.

“The Australian Government believes that mature-age workers – including those with disability – have an enormous amount to offer, so we’re doing all we can to encourage employers to give those people a go.

“The change we’re announcing today allows job seekers and employers to apply for the Restart programme through the employment service providers with whom they have already built up strong links.”

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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One comment

  • Anonymous-1 says:

    Is there a need for ADEs to lift their game? Sure having no ADEs would also save the government millions a year too. Perhaps there needs to be a push for ADEs to be more self funding.


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