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.
We are extremely concerned by @billshortenmp announcement that taxpayer funds could be used to support segregated employment in proposed changes to government procurement policy. In many cases these employers pay just a few dollars per hour https://t.co/6WhuXx5Osf #auspol
— PWD Australia (PWDA) (@PWDAustralia) January 23, 2019
“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.”
It's time to ditch sheltered workshops – look at how Vermont phased out discriminatory #segregated employment and improved outcomes for people with intellectual #disabilities. You have the chance to make a difference @billshortenmp @AustralianLabor https://t.co/gyfU0EeMa5
— Catia Malaquias (@CatiaMalaquias) January 23, 2019
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.”