Greenacres disability jobs on the line

Greenacres CEO Chris Christodoulou with workers Joanne Newman, Daniel Demaagd and Gerry Gooden.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Greenacres CEO Chris Christodoulou with workers Joanne Newman, Daniel Demaagd and Gerry Gooden.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Parents of disabled Greenacres Industries employees have vowed to support the group as it prepares to fight a high-stakes case in the Fair Work Commission.

About 160 parents and employees with disabilities agreed on Wednesday night to back Greenacres in opposing an incoming supported wages system which is expected to mandate far higher wages for 240 involved in its enterprises, making the operation unviable.

Kanahooka mum Gillian Bathe, whose 46-year-old daughter Alison earns less than $100 a week working full-time at Greenacres, told the Mercury the proposed new system would leave her daughter worse off, because it didn't factor in the assistance employees received on top of their wages, such as counsellors, social activities, ongoing training and regular help with conflict resolution.

"If [Alison] had a proper wage - whatever that means - and we had to pay for all this other assistance like transport, a case manager, a [one-on-one] trainer ... she would be worse off than she is now," Mrs Bathe said.

"I know people with a disability who have had nervous breakdowns working [in the open market] because they have been pushed.

"I think that these judges should come down and see ... what's involved in dealing with people with special needs. I'm hoping that common sense will prevail and we can just carry on the way we are."

Supported employees at Greenacres are currently paid according to an in-house mechanism which is a kind of approved wage assessment tool.

On Tuesday the Health Services Union and United Voice lodged an application in the Fair Work Commission seeking to have such tools replaced with the Supported Wages System, designed to help workers with disability work on the open employment market.

Concerned: Greenacres employees and their families attend an information session about the supported wage system. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Concerned: Greenacres employees and their families attend an information session about the supported wage system. Picture: ROBERT PEET

The Federal Court opened the door to the challenge late last year when two out of three judges agreed a particular wage assessment tool was discriminatory.

Under the proposed new system, Greenacres would be forced to pay $1000 for an assessor to observe an employee on the job - perhaps packing boxes - for one hour. Assuming they packed 50 boxes in that time, and the benchmark was 100 boxes, they would be entitled to half the going wage.

Greenacres CEO Chris Christodoulou has warned the group would need an extra $1.7 million a year in supported employees' wages if forced to implement the supported wages system.

Given the company pursued nil-profit contracts, this would "almost certainly" mean the closure of Greenacres.

"The kind of work we have is not designed to make a profit margin at all. A lot of the work we get is just so we can keep the people with disabilities occupied, and working at their skill level."

The NSW branch of United Voice is working with Greenacres to find a solution.

Mr Christodoulou said he was encouraged by the support of parents at Wednesday's meeting.

Parents backed a series of resolutions, including that Greenacres will negotiate a new enterprise agreement that incorporates a fair wage assessment tool; will be involved in any national campaign to stop the supported wages system being imposed on Australian Disability Enterprises and will take action necessary to protect jobs.

Julia Walsh, whose son Tim Walsh, 20, and brother Gerard Gooden, 43, both have Down syndrome and are employees of Greenacres, said it wasn't about money.

"We're very happy to have our children - and my brother - going off to work each day and being employed," she said.

Greenacres' viability threatened by wage case

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