13/10/2015 - 06:03

$50m work target for disabled

13/10/2015 - 06:03

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A diverse group of local not-for-profit disability enterprises has set a target to win $50 million worth of contracts by 2018 and create an additional 500 jobs for people with a disability.

$50m work target for disabled
HARD AT IT: Matthew Gordon secured work with Portobello through disability support service Ability Centre. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A diverse group of local not-for-profit disability enterprises has set a target to win $50 million worth of contracts by 2018 and create an additional 500 jobs for people with a disability.

Created three years ago, the collective of eight enterprises has so far secured 81 contracts with state government departments worth $25 million, and representing 2,100 jobs.

Independently, the group’s members undertake a wide range of services including environmental rehabilitation, parks maintenance, the sale and maintenance of fire equipment, offset digital printing, light engineering and metal fabrication, warehousing inventory management, catering, and web design.

Contract for their services came about after the state government relaxed procurement policies so that, once value for money has been ascertained, disability enterprises can be awarded work without having to tender competitively.

The enterprises – ParaQuad Industries, Workpower Inc, Activ Foundation, Westcare, the Shire of Manjimup, Intework, Good Samaritan Industries, and Goodwill Engineering – are now focused on achieving similar procurement arrangements with local governments, and have long-term plans to work with business and the federal government.

Good Samaritan Industries chief executive John Knowles told Business News the diverse group believed its $50 million target was achievable by 2018.

“We’re just eight little non-government organisations in Western Australia prodding a really big sleeping bear, but you gotta have a go,” Mr Knowles said.

“The Department of Human Services, Department of Defence and one or two others within the federal government to their credit have said ‘you guys take a bit of a lead and see what you can do’.”

Mr Knowles said despite improved employment uptake, many people with a disability still faced discrimination when trying to secure employment, with employers wary of their capabilities.

“Nationally, the participation rate of people with disabilities in the workforce has stagnated at about 53 per cent for the past 20 years, since the Disability Discrimination Act was brought in. The rest of the community enjoys a participation rate in the mid 80 per cent and that’s risen over the same time period,” he said.

The participation rate for people with a disability in WA is about on par with the national average, according to Mr Knowles. He said employers who didn’t engage usually did so because of broader negative social attitudes rather than malicious prejudice.

Other disability support groups working alongside this group of eight include Rocky Bay, which has its own employment services team, and Ability Centre, which places about 70 people in jobs with Goodwill Engineering annually and finds employment and support for 100 people a year in mainstream businesses.

Federal MP for Fremantle Melissa Parke told Business News an already discriminatory environment for people with disabilities had been made worse by changes to the disability support pension.

As part of federal 2014-15 budget cuts, people under the age of 35 with a disability are facing stricter requirements, with many losing eligibility and facing hardship when they are unable to find employment.

Ms Parke said removing the pension, especially for people with degenerative conditions, was leading to often demeaning and soul-destroying processes of having to prove one’s illness and capabilities, while also dealing with the emotional consequences of often life-threatening physical decline.

Mr Knowles said more work needed to be done to promote the benefits of hiring someone with a disability.

“We should be problem solving in our workplace for people with disabilities, because if you’ve got a diverse workforce in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and disability ... (they’re) generally, better balanced and happier,” he said.

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