Working with the disabled

THERE are 23 agencies in Perth servicing businesses that recognise the benefits of employing disabled workers. But unlike some disability services employment providers that actually operate businesses and employ disabled workers in them, these agencies find employment for their clients with regular businesses.

The benefits for employers that use disabled workers are pretty strong.

Surveys show that: employees in businesses that hire disabled workers feel better about their employer; disabled workers usually have a better safety record than their able-bodied colleagues; and such employees are more likely to remain loyal to the business.

There are also some Federal Government funds available through Centrelink to assist employers hiring disabled workers.

Employers can access wage subsidies including the Disabled Apprenticeship Wage Support Program and the Supported Wage System, which incorporates a process of productivity-based wage assessments and funds for workplace modifications to help disabled people work in their business. 

Under the Supported Wage System a disabled person, assessed as having a productivity level of 70 per cent compared with co-workers performing the same duties, for example, can reach an agreement with his or her employer to be paid at 70 per cent of the normal rate for that job.

Indeed, many in the disability employment services area had been concerned when the WA Government changed the State’s work-place relations laws and removed workplace agreements.

However, none of the agencies contacted by WA Business News indicated that this change had been a great problem for their particular service as many of the awards their clients now work under have provisions for disabled workers.

Emtech Specialised Personnel Service employment coordinator Madaleine Byers said her agency worked with people with mild disabilities.

She said these were people who had been assessed by Centrelink

to have a rating of 50 and above.

“We help a people with a variety of disabilities be they physical, psychological, learning difficulties or acquired brain injury,” Ms Byers said.

“The disability employment arena has changed from the sheltered workshops to business services.”

Ms Byers said the key parts of the process involved talking to the clients to see what they wanted to do.

“Some of these people have never worked before. We try and assess what the various barriers to them will be,” she said.

With that determined, the search begins for a suitable workplace for that client.

“Once we have a client placed we work with them on site to make sure they have everything that they need,” Ms Byers said.

“We stay with the clients until they are job ready.

“There is also the option of work experience, which gives the client an idea of what the job will be like.”

She said Emtech relied on a degree of repeat business, using relationships with companies it had previously dealt with to facilitate the placement of other clients. However, she said, if none of those businesses could take other Emtech clients, then the business had to rely on cold canvassing.

Edge Employment Solutions managing director Sue Robertson said about 50 per cent of the client placements her agency made were with businesses that had already taken people from it.

“We also do a lot of cold calling,” she said.

Ms Robertson said once a job had been secured for one of the agency’s clients a job coordinator took over and worked with the client and the employer to make sure the placement was successful.

“That support is there until both the worker and the employer are satisfied,” she said.

Ms Robertson said employers usually benefited from employing disabled workers.

“People with disabilities have better safety records than their able-bodied coworkers. They usually have better attendance records,” she said.

“Employers have reported to us that the culture of the workplace changes and becomes more understanding.”

PEP Employment Services CEO Gary Hunter said employment, to many of his agency’s clients, was also a social outlet.

“Once people with disabilities get a job they tend to hang onto it. This means the employer gets a very loyal employee,” he said.

“There is research showing that employing disabled workers does make other employees feel good about their employer.”

Mr Hunter said there had been occasions when employers had come to his agency with job offers but he had nobody suitable to fill them.

“In that case we will actually let the placement go because it is better to do that than to put the wrong person in it.”

However, it is usually the case that the demand for jobs outweighs their supply. Ms Robertson said her agency currently had 300 people on their waiting lists.

It is a similar story at the other two agencies.   Ms Byers said the bulk of Emtech’s clients were best suited to factory type work.

“However, we have a naturopath that is suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome and can only work between 15 and 20 hours a week,” she said.

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