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Disabled workers hit by changes in govt regulation

Disabled workers hit by changes in government regulation

By Will Miller

The Director of a factory for the disabled says a change in labour regulations has brought about an increase in the number of disabled workers unable to find work.

Peter Fraher, Managing Director of the Auckland based ‘Abilities’ factory, says there are many people with disabilities who don’t have the opportunity to work but would like to.

Workers on the recycling line at Abilities

He says he would like to do more but can’t. “We can find more work, but don’t have the space,” says Fraher.

Until last year, the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (DPEP) Act made employers of disabled people exempt from the Minimum Wage and the Holidays Act.

The subsequent repeal means employees are given the benefits of both acts, although they can still be paid below the minimum wage according to productivity.

Labour inspectors from the Department of Labour assess workers and give the go-ahead for any minimum wage exemptions.

He says the repeal of the act brought a mixed outcome.

While there were improvements for some workers, increased bureaucracy has meant some organisations have stopped manufacturing altogether.

As a result the number of specialist workplaces for the disabled has shrunk.

He says some people have missed out as a result, “the marginalised ones that just can’t get work.”

Fraher says the legislation allowing the factory to pay below the minimum wage has caused some ill-feeling towards factories like his.

“You get the odd person who thinks we’re competing against the market in a privileged position; that we’re undercutting the market. But this organisation never did,” he says.

He says there are people who would rather disabled people earned the minimum wage but worked for fewer hours.

Fraher dismisses this. He says, “offering disabled people work for a few hours a week on the full minimum wage at supermarkets or fast-food restaurants is an insult.

“Who in their normal work life works two hours a week? … That’s not a job,” he says.

The 4,000 metre facility in Glenfield employs around 100 people with a range of disabilites as well as 20 able-bodied staff.

The company’s vision is “to enrich the lives of people with disabilities through meaningful employment” and offers a number of work options depending upon the skills and abilities of its staff.

The plant specialises in recycling activities. An ongoing contract to recycle industrial packaging is a lifeline says, plant manager, “Gub” Rule.

The simplicity of the recycling processes allows the factory to employ workers with a much wider range of disabilities. “Most people that employ disabled people find it quite difficult to find them work,” she says.

“We’ve a low turnover rate - happy staff,” says Gub, who adds that there’s a long waiting list to join the plant.

The factory operates without shareholders and all profits are ploughed back into the business meaning staff can expect the factory to be involved in their lives beyond the factory gate.

“We’re not like a normal workforce,” says Fraher. For instance, this Easter 36 staff went off site for an adventure weekend courtesy of the factory.

Fraher is quick to point out that the factory is a commercial business that competes for contracts in the market like any other. “We get just over half the quotes we do. That’s how tough it is,” he says.

Goods end up across the country or even the world. From packaging DVDs to wine, paper plates to circuit boards - there’s not much they won’t do.

Fraher would just like to take on more contracts and offer more vacancies.


Will Miller is a Journalism Student at AUT

© Scoop Media

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