Disabled unemployment may rise in the New England and North West

Photo: (ABC News)

The CEO of a Tamworth disability services provider says a ruling by the Human Rights Commission on the wages of disabled workers could force many intellectually disabled people into unemployment.

The Commission last week ruled that Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) operating with the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) must increase wages from the current average of $4.50 an hour, within 12 months.

Barry Murphy from Challenge Community Services says wages should have been raised long ago, but the 12 month timeframe that’s been given may be unsustainable for many providers.

“Pick any company in Australia and tell them to double [their] wages in 12 months time, they’d all be in the same boat,” he said.  “A lot of organisations are really going to struggle.”

“But there’s a part of me that says they should have been working on this long ago.” “We’re all going to get tarred with the 30 cents an hour brush, and that’s not the case,” he said. Mr Murphy says Challenge Community Services has made paying higher wages a priority.

He says BSWAT is just one system used by ADEs, so there won’t be industry-wide ramifications, but many intellectually disabled people may be forced into unemployment.

“A lot of these organisations haven’t been set up to make huge profits.”

“They’ve been set up to provide employment opportunities and training for people with disabilities, and so in a lot of cases organisations can’t turn around and say ‘We’re going to have to give all our profits away,’ because they haven’t got the profits.”

He says he has particular concerns for regional operators, who may be the only employers of disabled people in the area.

“There are probably about 600 ADEs in Australia now, and if half of those close, you’re going to have tens of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities, who probably would find it extremely hard to get a job outside of an ADE, they’re going to be unemployed,” Mr Murphy said.

“And I think it just wrecks the whole reason for our existence.”