Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Abbott Government intends to only pay a group of disabled workers 50 per cent of the wages owed to them due to discriminatory employment conditions

Snapshot taken from Prime Minister Abbott’s St. Patrick’s Day 2015 message

For a man who flaunts his Catholic credentials and frequently presents himself in a posture reminiscent of a 1950s parish priest in the pulpit, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott doesn’t have a genuine Christian bone in his body.

If he did his government wouldn’t currently have a bill before the Senate which again seeks to limit an unknown number of individuals, within a group of up to 10,000 workers, to just 50 per cent of the back wages owed to them due to discriminatory employment practices allowed under the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) scheme:

Abbott is pursuing this in the face of a decision by the Australian Human Rights Commission and a  Federal Court judgement (upheld by the High Court) which found that these workers had been discriminated against with regard to wages paid.

He obviously intends to compound this discrimination by including that paltry offer in the bill.

What is occurring in Canberra is setting off alarm bells among families and carers, some of whom are hitting out at the Abbott Government's lack of consultation regarding the proposed legislation and at almost every group making submissions to the Fair Work Commission in Equal Remuneration Case 2013-14.

CARERS ALLIANCE media release 24 March 2015:


 Statement by Mary Lou Carter, Secretary of Carers Alliance:

“Many of our members are parents of adult children with intellectual disability employed in Australia’s Disability Enterprises (previously called ‘sheltered workshops’), our families send out a call to the Senate to respect our family members’ right of choice – the most basic of human rights – and support the passage of the BSWAT Payment Bill through the Upper House.

“We are fearless – not frightened – when it comes to protecting the jobs of our sons and daughters with intellectual disability.”

Ms Carter, who has been attending the current Fair Work Commission discussions into the process of designing a new instrument for wage assessment for Disability Enterprise employees, said the Courts are an unsatisfactory tool for fashioning public policy.

“The legal system is such that only lawyers and government-funded disability rights activists know the rules. Our family members are expected to just play along. That’s a whole new world for parents trying to protect their children’s right of choice.

“More importantly, some 9,998 workers with intellectual disability have had no say about either this BSWAT Payment Bill now before the Senate, or the forced imposition of an alternative Supported Wage assessment tool by the end of April.  Forcing services to use a wage tool that would cause closure due to financial insolvency would mean some 70% of those people could soon be unemployed. Then they would have no employment income and have to pay for day services – if they could get them - or be forced to stay at home in the care of their families.

“Parents know exactly what’s at stake if their adult children with intellectual disabilities lose their jobs in Disability Enterprises. It’s not just about the money, it’s the loss of dignity that work provides. It’s the poverty, the loss of social interaction with their peers, the loss of their sense of achievement and inclusion as valued members of their community, the loss of their self-esteem and pride.

“It’s about the denial of their right of choice -
1.   The right to choose whether they take any compensation – to which they might be entitled - by opting out of a class action in which they were included by legal artifice, without consent or consultation; and 
2.    To choose to continue working in their current jobs, earning a fair wage consistent with their capacity. If the actions of the ideologues force closures, then our workers cannot choose what no longer exists, because more time is needed to develop an alternative wage tool.

”Many people currently working in Disability Enterprises contend these choices have been denied them because of actions unilaterally taken by funded rights activists, the lawyers and the unions, without any reference to the major stakeholders: the workers with an intellectual disability themselves, their parents, families and carers.

“You would have to be there at the Fair Work Commission hearings, witnessing the ideological fight by funded advocates, lawyers and unionists, to feel how family members are depicted. If some of the workers now employed in Disability Enterprises can work in open employment, that’s great for them. But the majority cannot, and neither they nor their jobs should be demeaned, disparaged or jeopardised in this way.

“Families of Australians with significant intellectual disabilities are deeply frustrated by a system that can mount an argument based on rights, and yet, in the course of that argument deny the basic right of choice to our nation’s most vulnerable workers.

“These are our children, our family members. We are frustrated by the process, and lack of it, but we are fearless – not frightened – when fighting to protect our ADE’s. We know the value of jobs for these workers, especially when so many able-bodied workers cannot get jobs.

“We don’t talk about disability; we live it.” 


Wage Justice Campaign…….

17 February 2015: Update on Variation of Supported Employment Services Award 
United Voice, Health Services Union and National Peak Disability and Advocacy Organisations — Communique, Tuesday, 17 February 2015 Variation of Supported Employment Servces award. 

On 23rd December 2013, United Voice and the Health Services Union made a joint application to the Fair Work Commission to vary the Supported Employment Services Award 2010.This Award covers employees with disability working in Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs, formerly known as Sheltered Workshops). The application was made following the decision by the Full Federal Court in Nojin v Commonwealth 
which found that the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool used to determine wages unfairly discriminated against workers with intellectual disability. The application also seeks to deal with the extent to which other Wage Assessment Tools listed in the Award are discriminatory against workers with disabilities.

On 20 June 2014 the full bench of the Fair Work Commission decided that in an effort to find a solution that there be a Conference of the parties led by Deputy President Booth. There has been a series of meetings held at the Fair Work Commission since 1 September 2014. Conference proceedings are conducted as a confidential process and without prejudice basis.

On 16 February 2015 the parties agreed to conduct a study using the Supported Wage System with modification in a sample of ADEs. This will consider the impact of using historical productivity data on the productivity wage assessment rates of workers with disability. The parties will discuss the results of this study at the next scheduled meeting on Monday 27 April 2015.


The Guardian 26 March 2015:

During the caretaker period of the last election campaign the department of social services applied to the Human Rights Commission for a three-year exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act to give it time to develop a new, fair assessment tool. It was granted a single year, which expires in April.

Guardian Australia understands a new assessment tool is not yet ready, and the government is likely to have to ask the commission for more time. The decision would be taken by the full commission.

Innes, who was still a commissioner when last year’s decision was made, said “that decision set out a course of action the government needed to take ... I have not seen evidence they have done that, so I would have thought it would be difficult for them to argue that they should get a further extension.”

Innes said if the government did not get an extension, workers with disabilities could lodge complaints and possibly seek damages.

But Dr Ken Baker, the chief executive of National Disability Services said one year was always an unreasonable timeframe.

“A new tool is being developed under the guidance of the Fair Work Commission, and the government has provided money to develop and implement it, but it is technically challenging and it takes time,” he said.

He said about one third of disability organisations had already moved to different payment schemes. But if the commission did not grant the commonwealth an extension, many organisations would be in contravention of the act.

At the same time, the government has failed to pass legislation which offers employees with disabilities half the backpay to which they might be entitled, on the condition that they shun legal action designed to recover the full amount.

The bill implementing the back pay deal – the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool Payment Scheme Bill 2014 – was rejected by the Senate in November. It was to be voted on again this week but has now been dropped down the priority list and won’t be voted on until June. Crucial crossbenchers remain undecided…..

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