Royal Commission hears mixed views on supported employment
On the first day of the Royal Commission's hearing 22 on Australian Disability Enterprises, supported employees, parents and an advocacy organisation gave evidence.
In opening, the RC noted it will not be making findings that a person or employer breached a law or policy during the hearing, and that it is not a substitute for the Fair Work Commission or Fair Work Ombudsman. It also noted it will need to consider the practical consequences of any decisions.
Topics considered included supported wages, workplace conditions, and opportunities to transition to open employment. The RC heard both positive and negative stories, sometimes from the same witness and about the same organisation.
Of the supported employees (or their parents) who gave evidence, the majority spoke about enjoying their jobs. They highlighted the sense of worth employment provides, and the opportunity to develop relationships. At the same time, some witnesses said the tasks they perform were ‘boring’ and that there were limited supports to develop their skills.
All were asked about the rates of pay they received in supported employment. One witness, a refugee, left his supported employer when they told him it wasn’t possible to raise his pay to $21 an hour. He said he couldn’t support his wife and child on the offered rate. Another witness said he was able to ‘manage’ financially on his wage in combination with his Disability Support Pension.
The CEO of Inclusion Australia was critical of supported employment services, claiming they do not match work with employees’ skills and interests. She criticised supported wages and suggested the Fair Work Commission wage determination was based on false assumptions about the productivity of people with disability.
Despite a range of criticisms, including that supported employment does not satisfy Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, the witness acknowledged supported employees value the opportunity to work. The Chair was doubtful of her proposition that government subsidising supported employment wages would encourage people to transition into open employment.
Two parents gave evidence about their children who worked in supported employment. Both expressed concerns that their children had been expected to provide personal care support to their co-workers, including assisting with taking people to the toilet and meals. They listed positive features of supported employment providers that were: communicating well with families, listening to supported employees and providing opportunities to learn new skills.
In a concerning anecdote, one witness said her daughter observed a manager at her supported employer mimic her co-worker's stutter, and display a lack of respect for women. The witness said parents and carers should be included on organisations’ boards.
The hearing resumes at 10am (AEST) today, when evidence will be given by more advocates and a service provider. The witness list is available on the Royal Commission website. Members will note NDS has been called to give evidence and will do so on Wednesday.