*Information in this blog sourced from The Age: http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/disabled-workers-go-to-federal-court-over-back-pay-20140119-312rx.html

By Joel Wilson, for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia and New Zealand.

Under laws for Australian Disability Enterprises (sheltered workshops), many disabled staff have been ‘legally’ paid about $1 to $2 an hour despite Australia’s supposed minimum wage being $16.37 an hour.

Yes, you read that correctly. There’s a clear gap between the supposed minimum wage, and the legal obligations of employers.

I know what it’s like to be placed in a sheltered workshop. When I was 18, and living in a group home, I spent 8hrs a week working at a place in metro Perth, putting velcro stickers on X-Ray envelopes. I was getting somewhat between $5-$6 per hour. The work wasn’t hard, however I was capable of so much more. The issue being, in a group home, I was labelled unable to work in a regular work environment, and deemed incapable of performing tasks beyondusing stickers.

However, that’s just my story. I worked alongside other autistics, who needed a lot of support to perform the sticking tasks. Yet, they were still given that chance to participate in a work environment.

Unfortunately, businesses take advantage of the sheltered workshop scheme, or Australian Disability Enterprises as they are now called, with 300 across Australia employing around 20,000 people in work including manufacturing, packaging, and cleaning.

The Australian Government seems it appropriate to define 20,000 Australian wages based on a label of a disability, or impairment. Even though a court case in 2012 ruled that staff in sheltered workshops have been underpaid for many years, and this was a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Not only that, the Abbott Government last week announced it will be making a one-off payment in July to these underpaid Australians.

But there’s a catch. Those who agree to the payment will waive their rights to sue for potentially a much larger, and deserved amount.

This announcement has been made just weeks after legal firm Maurice Blackburn lodged a class action seeking the underpaid funds. Maurice Blackburn industrial relations head Josh Bornstein said: “This government is attempting a shakedown of intellectually disabled people.”

Maurice Blackburn will be lodging a court application this week to stop the Government’s scheme, and push for the correct earnings to be repaid.

The average price for a loaf of multigrain bread is between $2.50-$3.50. A small jar of peanut butter is $3.50. That’s $7. On the wages some of these people are on, they’d have to work 7 hours just to afford bread and peanut butter.

I hope that the rest of Australia realises that just because someone is labelled with a disability, they still deserve the rights of every other Australian; and that this undoubtedly stressful legal process is over soon, with the right outcome – what they deserve.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Australia and New Zealand committee does not condone lower wages for people with disabilities, and feels that the Australian Government are failing to do the right thing by the people involved.