Today, four national peak disability groups will join with the AED Legal Centre and more than 30 community disability organisations to launch an open letter calling on politicians from all parties to vote against a bill to extinguish the legal rights of up to 10,500 Australian workers with intellectual disability. Some of these workers earn less than $1 an hour.
In the letter, sent to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as well as Labor and cross-bench senators, disability advocates call on the Senate to reject the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT) Payment Scheme Bill.
The BSWAT bill asks workers who have been unlawfully underpaid for many years to accept a payment of just half of what they are owed, in exchange for giving away their legal right to participate in a class action and seek full backpay for work completed.
The Full Federal Court and the High Court have already determined that the use of the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool unlawfully discriminated against workers with intellectual disability.
Despite this, more than 10,500 workers with intellectual disability continue to have their wage assessed using this discriminatory tool. The class action currently before the Federal Court seeks to enforce those decisions for all workers in this group.
The bill also contains a provision allowing the Secretary of the Department of Social Services to appoint nominees to accept a payment on behalf of workers without their consent. This is alarming, as there is absolutely no requirement for the nominee to act in accordance with the preferences of the worker. This places the Department Secretary in a conflict of interest.
Paul Cain of the National Council on Intellectual Disability, said; “The Bill will not provide a remedy for the discrimination experienced by workers with intellectual disability whose wages were assessed using the BSWAT.”
The four peak disability advocacy organisations involved in the letter along with the AED Legal Centre are People with Disability Australia, the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, the National Council on Intellectual Disability, and Disability Advocacy Network Australia.
Kairsty Wilson of the AED Legal Centre, said: “All workers in Australia have the right to equal pay for work of equal value. We are calling on our parliamentary representatives to do everything they can to protect the social, economic and human rights of employees with intellectual disability.”
A Senate Committee report on the bill is due to be released tomorrow (Tuesday 26 August).