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Disability Groups Divided Over Support for Australian Disability Enterprises

25 January 2019 at 5:21 pm
Luke Michael
Disability groups are split on whether Labor’s plan to direct government contracts to disability enterprises is a good move, with critics of the plan saying people with disability in these jobs are paid as little as $1 an hour.

Luke Michael | 25 January 2019 at 5:21 pm


Disability Groups Divided Over Support for Australian Disability Enterprises
25 January 2019 at 5:21 pm

Disability groups are split on whether Labor’s plan to direct government contracts to disability enterprises is a good move, with critics of the plan saying people with disability in these jobs are paid as little as $1 an hour. 

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said on Monday that Labor would support Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) as a way to provide dignified work for people with disability locked out of employment.

“We’ll make sure this procurement policy has a clear filter that, where you’ve got a disability enterprise… I want to make sure you’re getting some Commonwealth contracts to do work,” Shorten said.

“I’d rather [people with disability] were going to a workplace in a social situation, having some dignity, than just being at home and ignored.”

The move was welcomed by disability service provider peak body National Disability Services.

CEO Chris Tanti said ADEs employed over 21,000 people with significant disability, who otherwise would be excluded from the workforce.

“To secure their future and generate jobs, disability enterprises require funding certainty and procurement of their goods and services by government agencies,” Tanti said.

But advocacy group People With Disability Australia slammed Labor’s plan, arguing that people working in ADEs were paid very low wages, and less than 1 per cent of employees moved into mainstream employment.

“Our advocacy for the rights of people with disability in ADEs is based on the situations of our members and the people with disability who come to us for support regarding the lack of genuine employment opportunities and unfair treatment, including inequitable wages in ADEs,” co-CEO Therese Sands told Pro Bono News.

Sands said the award was being formally reviewed in the Fair Work Commission due to the low wages that were being paid to many employees of ADEs.

“The work ADE employees do is valuable. These employees work extremely hard, yet in many instances are paid as little as $1 an hour,” she said.

“These wages aren’t fair and are discriminatory. Everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

While NDS acknowledged ADEs have been criticised in the past because of their wage levels, Tanti said all ADEs were now paid wages through an industrial award – that is under review – and added that supported employees chose to work there.

He said NDS has advocated for both open and supported employment to be an easy and attractive choice for National Disability Insurance Scheme participants.

“We believe that there should be a range of employment options on a continuum for people with disability. One size will never fit all,” Tanti said.

“We agree with the call to remove barriers to work for people with disability, and most certainly do not support unfair and discriminatory practices – but there is a need for enterprises to cater for people with more limited employment opportunities.

“Enterprises continue to innovate by reviewing their business models and creating cultures that are more inclusive of all people.”

Tanti said the next step was to keep working for a sustainable wage system that ensured financially viable employment options for a broad range of people with disability.

PWDA has called for the government to address barriers to employment so more people with disability can find open work.

“We strongly oppose any government plan to utilise procurement policies to support the continued segregation of people with disability in the workforce,” Sands said.

“Instead of supporting segregated employment, governments should be putting resources into creating genuine pathways to open or mainstream employment for people with disability.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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  • Mary Walsh - parent says:

    Ms Sands needs to visit some of our ADE’s and talk to the workers. PWDA needs to align their “rights” agenda to reality . Most of the workers have an intellectual disability. Many can’t self-advocate. Many may not be able to work a full week. Some have tried open employment and returned to their ADE. They found the social isolation, bullying and harassment, lack of continued support and reduced income due to reduced hours too much to overcome. Their ADE is more than a job – it is their life. PWDA is a well funded Federal advocacy organisation which does not allow family carers to have voting rights if the disabled person cannot self advocate. There are two sides to this debate and Ms Sands should visit a few more ADE’s and talk to those who live the problems- in regional areas like Bundaberg, where the announcement was made. It’s a Federal initiative which should have been introduced years ago.

  • GeeLanda says:

    The only ‘real’ solution to the question of pay is to stringently enforce one rule – disability services and organizations of this nature and created, led an run by people with disabilities – not those who profess to have made disability services their passion. Disabled people must lead and manage their own – think of the policy development in the area of the first Australians. It took many decades to get ATSIC people to form councils and to be roles of identifying their own needs and services. Gee Landa.

    • Mary Walsh says:

      Perhaps, Geelanjdo – you could suggest how our sons, daughters, sisters, brothers and friends get any input into how THEY comment on THEIR lives, if they work in an ADE – and choose not to work elsewhere. Most of these people have an intellectual disability. They cannot self-advocate. Is someone with a mild intellectual disability, someone who is deaf, blind, non-communicative or physically disabled able to speak, based on THEIR disability about the needs of THIS group ?. How do you suggest THEY voice their opinions when they have no formal voice to represent them – and their family/carers are denied any input into policy at either Government and systemic advocacy which are funded to represent them – and refuse to do so on ideological grounds. What would you say to MY son – or his mates – who have been employees there for most of their adult life?. Yes – the first Australians do have a voice. Where is ours ? It is most certainly NOT with the likes of yourself and other advocates. Their disability support pension decreases relevant to the wages received – the same as all Centrelink recipients.

  • Robert Macfarlane says:

    Great article. The Commonwealth needs to do more than just channel contracts to ADEs as they are. First there needs to be structural reform -no more federal funding until ADEs transform into integrated social enterprises and pay fair wages under the recently modified Supported Wages System (or better still some form of mandated citizen’s minimum wage)

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