Government backflip on the disabled

THE State Government has been forced into a major backflip over its Labour Relations Reform Bill in a bid to keep disabled workers employed.

Proposed amendments to the Bill come in response to concerns from the disabilities services industry that the abolition of workplace agreements would have resulted in mass sacking of disabled workers.

In its original form the Bill made provisions for disabled workers affected by the removal of workplace agreements by placing them under the protection of the supported wage system.

However, ACROD, the National Industry Association for Disability Services, has since pointed out to the Government that the supported wage system provided for a minimum wage of $50 a week.

Too much for some, according to ACROD employment and training sub-committee chairman Brian Matthews.

Mr Matthews argues that providing only the Federal Government supported wage system as a back stop would place at risk the jobs of disabled workers who produce less than $50 a week.

ACROD, together with individual disabled employers including Good Samaritan Industries and Rocky Bay, have proposed an amendment to the Bill that will ensure disabled workers will not be disadvantaged by the Government’s industrial relations changes.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry industrial relations manager Bruce Williams said many disabled employees who were severely physically handicapped but still had control of their faculties preferred flexible work arrangements, which did not require assessment by a third party as with the supported wage system.

He said there was a whole range of other issues besides minimum pay that threatened the livelihood of the disabled workers. Unusual work arrangements, like having a full-time carer, were not provided for adequately by the individual Awards.

Some disabled workers who work in Business Services, traditionally called sheltered workshops, receive adequate treatment through the Supported Employees Industry Award. But many, including up to 60 staff at Rocky Bay, could be shown the door because they operate under open employment arrangements, through workplace agreements.

Disabled Workers Union secretary Gloria Cassidy said early indications were that the Government’s legislation would not have a detrimental effect on its members covered by the Award.

The concern for disabled workers was brought to the Government’s attention last month at the Labor Party business breakfas by Rocky Bay CEO Gerry Walsh. Since then, Premier Gallop and senior ministerial advisers have been quietly working behind the scenes to rectify the situation.

A statement issued to Business News by Mr Kobelke acknowledged that ACROD had written to the Premier advocating that the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission issue a general order covering employment of people with disabilities.

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