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How much discrimination is OK?

Martin Wren - CEO Nova Employment
Martin Wren - CEO
Nova Employment
Friday, May 09, 2014

Mitch Fyfield is a good bloke, I've met him and he strikes me as sincere and very supportive of people who have a disability.

This is what he said on Wednesday (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-07/intellectually-disabled-workers-not-getting/5435290)

"I'm deeply concerned and disappointed about the decision of the Human Rights Commission," he told AM.

"I appreciate that they have the best of intentions, but if Australian Disability Enterprises were required to immediately move to a new wage assessment tool which would double the cost of providing employment, then ADEs - which most of them really struggle to break even as it is - a lot of ADEs would become unviable and cease to exist."

Mitch, your concerns are appreciated and when ADE's were first shaken up to improve conditions a number of assessment tools for determining appropriate wage levels were introduced. BSWAT was only one.

It was clear from the introduction of these tools that BSWAT was employer friendly, 'soft' and likely to produce a low wage. In the development of our ADE we compared BSWAT against other tools and chose to follow the Supported Wage Assessment path in the sure knowledge that it would produce the highest wage for our workers.

NOVA's ADE employees presently average more than 3 times the average hourly rate of workers in BSWAT assessed enterprises.

That's not a boast it is a simple reflection of what we knew would happen when we sought to fairly assess the productivity of our workers - that's all the SWS is: it's fair!

The facts are that sheltered workshops (and that's what we are talking about) have had many years to get their acts together - many have managed just fine and some have not. Those that have not are now being given a further year to adjust their business model.

A year is a hell of a long time to receive unfair and discriminatory treatment!

Whenever I write on sheltered workshops I cop some hate mail, before you bother I am not suggesting your son or daughter be thrown to the streets to fend for themselves. I only point out that sheltered workshops have been given years to sharpen their business models, many assessment tools were/are available BSWAT is only one - its not a choice of SWS Vs BSWAT there are other fair assessment tools available. Many Australian Disability Enterprises use fair assessment processes and assessment tools. The Commission only spoke to the deliberate use of a process that was patently unfair to workers. The High Court found that workers were being unfairly paid.

Almost unbelievably a further year has been given for this process to continue, the only consolation is it's not the 3 years that was asked for.

Fair work = Fair pay for EVERY Australian

Surely workers deserve that now?



For the information of readers I include my letter to the HRC from late last year:


The Commissioners
Australian Human Rights Commission
GPO Box 5218
SYDNEY NSW 2001

11th October 2013



Application for Exemption under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth)

Dear Commissioners

I am writing in opposition to the application by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) for exemption from sections 15 and 24 of the Disability Discrimination Act.

I am presently the Chief Executive of NOVA Employment, a Sydney based Disability Employment Service (DES) and I have worked in the field of disability employment for 26 years. In that time I have been responsible for vocational training programs, open employment services, an Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE) and a large Transition to Work program.

The Federal Court’s findings declare that the use of the BSWAT measure by 2 ADE’s unlawfully discriminated against Mr Nojin and Mr Prior.

Surely, that’s the end?

It would be difficult to imagine another Federal Court decision where discrimination was proved and then subsequently enshrined for as much as 3 years.

Indeed, how could this be?

Imagine the scene: the High Court brings down its verdict; I have discriminated against my non- disabled employees. I turn to the judges and say, ‘you are right, I have, but I am short of a quid and my accountant’s busy for a few years, do you think I might wait to fix things till then?’

Laughable if it were not the very issue.

There is a suggestion by FaHCSIA that the BSWAT may deliver a more favourable outcome in some circumstances – that should be readily proved from data presently available, if it is not then surely no further discrimination should be contemplated or risked?

I note the repeated use of the word ‘may’ in the ‘current situation’ section of the FaHCSIA application. Surely, if the BSWAT ‘may’ be a better tool in some circumstances, then it equally ‘may not’ and if it does not consistently deliver a fair outcome then surely there is an obligation to immediately source a fair and non-discriminating alternative?

The truth is that people with disability have been marginalised and underpaid in sheltered settings for decades.

It does not have to be that way.

Our ADE (Café 64) is located in Walgett, a small country town (pop 2200) in the north west of NSW. I invite you to visit this facility or at least to view some of our online material: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfwt5-L2KJw .

There are approximately 20 employees and 17 have significant disability.

My organisation does not use the BSWAT. We chose the Supported Wage Assessment process in the sure knowledge that was the most effective and fairest measure of our worker’s productivity.

FaHCSIA’s data clearly shows the result. Our workers typically are assessed as having a higher level of disability, they are paid almost 4 times the average wage for workers in ADE’s, they work slightly less hours and are far more likely to be Indigenous Australians.

They (the workers) are happy in the knowledge they receive a fair days pay for their contribution, that this contribution varies dependent upon ability but that higher skills are rewarded with higher wages - just like everywhere else.

The decision to use SWS costs us. Although recent developments and additions are moving Café 64 toward a much stronger bottom line, the service has to be supported by other parts of the organisation.

You will be strongly lobbied to the contrary of the views I express.

The truth is that services know their workers could earn more. Many could work in open employment and this can be easily proved through a consideration of results achieved when the free transfer of people between what is now DES and ADE programs was permitted.

Anecdotal information suggest collusion between assessors and programs that is not necessarily evilly motivated but that reflects the assertion made by FaHCSIA that ADE closure is a possibility if wages are increased.

Again, surely that is not the point. If I was imprisoned and the Federal Court ruled that my incarceration was unfair, under what circumstances could a reasonable argument be made that I might be better off in jail? That perhaps bad things might happen to me outside of my cell or I might skip a meal?

The arguments against immediate action to stop discrimination are either weak or spurious – the situation exposed by the experience of Mr Nojin and Mr Prior has been understood for many years. That workers were and are being underpaid has been accepted with a nudge and a wink and the repetition of the flawed arguments rehashed in this application.

Time to stop.

It is both reassuring and exciting to see the opportunity to end discrimination. That is in the interests of people with disability and the broader Australian community.

I invite you to come to Walgett and see for yourselves what is being achieved and I am more than happy to expand on any point made above or in relation to this unfair application.


Sincerely


Martin Wren
Link to review of other assessment tools: http://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/disability-and-carers/publications-articles/policy-research/analysis-of-wage-assessment-tools-used-by-business-services-0


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