Disability pay as low as $89 a week

A system that uses an employee’s capacity to determine rate of pay could result in workers with disabilities receiving as little as $2.34 an hour, a commission has heard.

The ninth public hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability is examining pathways and barriers to open employment.

In her opening address, senior counsel assisting Kate Eastman said Australia has one of the lowest employment rates for people with disability among OECD countries.

In 2018 the rate of unemployment for people with disability was around 10 per cent compared to five per cent of people without disability.

Commissioners heard that those who do find work are generally paid poorly.

In 2018, the median gross income for a person with a disability aged between 15 and 64 was $505 per week compared to $1016 for people without a disability.

Ms Eastman highlighted the distinction between the open labour market and “sheltered or segregated employment” offered by Australian Disability Enterprises.

She told the hearing ADEs commonly employ high numbers of people with a cognitive disability and use a modified wage system to pay them based on work capacity.

“Participants in ADEs can be legally paid less than the Australian minimum wage in this system,” she said.

Commissioners heard that for employees with a disability whose productivity is affected, an assessment can be made to determine rate of pay.

“Under that system, a person with disability may be paid as little as $89 a week, and that translates into $2.34 per hour for full-time employees,” she said.

A specific examination of ADEs will be conducted at a later date.

The week-long hearing will hear directly from people with disabilities who struggle to find meaningful work and face discrimination in the workplace.

Future hearings are expected to hear from unions, representative bodies and government representatives. 

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