With acknowledgement to Martin Stewart
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The Disability Rights Movement has successfully thrown the spotlight on sheltered workshop rip-offs but has had less success in exposing the horrific Supported Wage System which the Howard government embedded into virtually every industrial award. This is because the trade union movement by and large backs up this system in the mistaken belief that it helps people with disabilities get a fair go.
The Supported Wage System allow employers to race job seekers with disabilities against DEEWR productivity standards and then grant workers with disabilities an “award”, where their wages are pegged at a low percentage of regular award wages. Wages of around 50% of the average wage are the norm, with reports of some wages being as low as 10% of the award wage. This system singles out people with disabilities for lifelong poverty and stigma and disregards their overall contribution to the workplace - the quality of their work, their attendance or punctuality. It does not reward tenure of service - in fact people with disabilities are regularly re-measured against their employers’ criteria and can have their wages further slashed. Even underpaid sheltered workshop employees have had their wages slashed through this system.
The Socialist Alliance joins with prominent disability rights activists to call for the removal of the Supported Wages System from industrial awards. We will strive to win the support of the trade union movement and actively support this vital campaign for non-discriminatory workplaces and wage parity at every opportunity.
To protect the living standards and job opportunities of workers with disabilities, we call for these workers to have the unhindered protection of Equal Opportunities provisions in all aspects of their employment including their level of pay. In cases where workers with disabilities do not receive their full wage entitlements the government should top up their wage levels so that these workers are not financially disadvantaged.