BLOG: A fair day's pay for a fair day's work

One of the saddest – yet positive – stories I have to tell is from when I was at an event recently and they had the best egg and lettuce sandwiches! I was talking to a young man with a disability. He told me that he worked at UCan – the Yooralla cafe – and he had made the sandwiches and then he looked me straight in the eye and said “and they pay me real wages”. What an indictment on how Australians with disabilities are treated when it is remarkable that we are paid “real” wages.

For the past few days I have been getting increasingly angry as I look at politicians lining up to take pot shots at Australians with disabilities for being on income support, or as they call it, welfare  and inferring that we are bludgers.

Well I’m about to tell you that they are taking a simplistic approach to fixing the ills of the Australian economy – if indeed it really needs fixing – we currently rate third in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom and many of us know that Australia is a great place to live.

So why target Australians with disabilities? Well because they think we are an easy target. After all there are many of us on Disability Support Pensions who should not be there. 

However, the government’s reasons why we should not be there and mine are quite different. The government thinks that we don’t want to work, and therefore should lose our benefits or that we will somehow “recover” from our disability.  Rubbish.

Here are the real reasons why there are so many people on Disability Support Pensions – we don’t get a fair go. This is Australia’s shame, and the government doesn’t want to know. They’d rather vilify us than speak about the facts.

1. We don’t get the paid positions.  How many employers are happy to have us come along and work as volunteers, but then when a paid position comes up the job goes to someone else?  I work as a consultant and have written and reviewed access policies for major organisations and when I have asked for payment I have been told ‘oh, I thought you were a volunteer’.  Only because you don’t pay me!

2. There are a number of Australians with disabilities who work a substantial number of hours each week, but who are paid $1.38 per hour by Australian Disability Enterprises, and who rely on the Income Support of the Disability Support Pension to survive.  How about Kevin Andrews start tackling what I call Australia’s slave labour shame. A recent High Court ruling has said that it was wrong.  The Australian government response: let’s issue a challenge, eventually we can put their wages up to $3.50 an hour, that should keep them happy.  

If you paid a fair wage we would not need to be on the DSP.

3. Only Australians with disabilities are subject to BSWAT – the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool – which is applied to people with disabilities – including those working in Australian Disability Enterprises.  They will come into the workplace and look at what we are doing and then rate us subject to a range of criteria if our disability does not allow us to work at full capacity.  I can assure you that there are a number of people without disabilities who do not work to their full capacity who would fail the BSWAT test.  And do you know, I have heard of instances where the duties of the person to be tested are changed the day before they are to be assessed?

4. The government and political parties must employ us.  The advisors on disability issues must be Australians with disabilities and we must be paid real wages.  I am getting a bit sick of hearing “experts” tell me what it is like to be an Australian with a disability – treated as though I am not able, or do not know what I need.

5. The public sector has to get serious about employing Australians with disabilities. I’m even in favour of quotas now.  If you won’t  do it voluntarily – and you need to be coerced into doing the right thing – then so be it.  Many years ago, when I worked for Victoria Police, we instituted a policy where every public service position would be a suitably qualified Victorian with a disability.  Did it work? Yes. Were there any dramas? No. If they can do it so can every section.

6. Service and funding agreements must have a component that ensures the employment of Australians with disabilities. This is particularly true of disability service providers. The days of the charity model are over. Employing us will ensure that we can play an equal role, and I’m not talking about employment in ADEs (what we call sheltered workshops now). I’m talking about as policy writers, advisors and other positions of authority, and pay us.

7. Procurements contracts must include an employment of Australians with disabilities factor, weighted towards giving procurement contracts to those organisations which employ us as equals.

8. Any employment of Australians with disabilities in ADEs must ensure that there is the opportunity to transition to mainstream employment. There must be training to ensure that this occurs – rather than keep people on the payroll for 40 years – at $1.38 per hour!

It can be done – Outlook in Pakenham employ Australians with disabilities on an equal footing with other Australians.  They have a supported employment workplace to ensure that people have the supports they need.  Their policy is to transition people from supported employment to mainstream employment.  They see it as part of their responsibilities as an effective service provider.  Their employment service places people in mainstream employment and it works.

Outlook looks to Australians with disabilities to inform their work.  How do I know? They employ me.

Originally posted at www.probonoaustralia.com.au

Tricia Malowney is a regular contributor to Pro Bono Australia News and a former President of the Victorian Disability Services Board. In November 2013, Malowney was awarded the inaugural Brenda Gabe Leadership Award for her outstanding contribution to women with disabilities in Victoria. She was the inaugural Chair of the Royal Women’s Hospital Disability Reference Group and was able to influence policy and planning on key issues including the Family Violence Protection Act 2006. She has successfully lobbied for women with disabilities to be included in the United Nations Population Health Research.

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