Friday, April 8, 2011

In Australia, disabled worker case in federal court challenges how wages of disabled people are determined

From ABC news in Australia:

A federal court case involving an Ararat man could change the way disabled people are paid for their work.

Gordon Prior is one of two applicants challenging the Commonwealth's methods of assessing the wages of disabled Australians.

At the moment some disabled workers earn as little as $1.70 per hour for their work thanks to a Federal System introduced 7 years ago to calculate their wages. Unfortunately it means the average wage of a person with a disability working in Australia is just $3.61 per hour.

Debbie Verdon is the Coordinator of Grampians Disability Advocacy which is supporting Mr Prior in his challenge.

She says that while it's reasonable to expect a person with a disability may be less productive than someone without a disability, the assessment process also hinges on language ability, which puts the intellectually disabled at a distinct disadvantage.

"If you've got a person with an intellectual disability who may be working quite well and churning out a lot of material, the way they're questioned is in a format that they basically just can't understand or answer properly and yet they'll receive a low score because of that."

Since being introduced, the Commonwealth system has been criticised by disability advocates, disabled workers and some lawyers who argue there's too much emphasis given to employer costs rather than the needs and rights of the employees.

Debbie Verdon describes this case as a "David and Goliath struggle."

If the men win, the Commonwealth may have to review the way wages for people with a disability are assessed and paid. That in turn could have serious ramifications for businesses that employ disabled workers.