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Newman launches survey of sheltered workshops

Newman launches survey of sheltered workshops

ACT Deputy Leader Dr Muriel Newman, concerned about the appalling lack of consultation with the vulnerable families who will be directly affected by the Labour Party's Disabled Persons in Employment Bill, today launched a survey of workshops and families.

"Since the Government refuses to ensure that workers and families associated with sheltered workshops - who will be directly affected by this bill - are fully informed as to the likely changes that may occur once the bill becomes law, I am contacting them myself to ascertain their views," said Dr Newman, who is also deputy chair of the Social Services Select Committee.

"There are some 3,700 workers attending the country's 35 sheltered workshops, with well over 10,000 people including family members who will be directly affected by the proposed law change, yet our committee received only 16 submissions on the bill.

"That means that most workers and their families don't have a clue what's going on - even though the bill may well turn their lives upside down. I have heard stories of sheltered workshops closing and disabled workers going from being proud full-time workers to doing four hours a week of `community participation' and sitting in front of TV for the rest of the time. Their families are worried sick.

"Driven by the unions, the bill requires that anyone engaged in work must be paid the minimum wage. The problem is that many of the workers at sheltered workshops have limited productivity, and paying them a full wage is not possible - unless the government steps in to provide the necessary subsidy. While the Government has categorically ruled this option out, for the next two years they will allow workshops to obtain minimum wage exemptions for workers, as long as they undergo productivity assessments by labour inspectors every six months.

"With no long-term commitment to their on-going viability, many workshops are now contemplating closing. Others are looking at their options. One such workshop told our committee that according to their calculations, after the bill becomes law, they will be forced to send home around 80 of their 120 workers. Some of these workers have been employed at the workshop for 20 years, they love going to work and they are extremely proud of the contribution they make.

"My survey will be faxed to sheltered workshops today. Further, I will also be surveying the more than 500 concerned people who signed an electronic petition on calling for more consultation to find out if they believe those who will be affected by the bill have been properly consulted, what effect the bill will have on them, and if they support the introduction of the bill in its current form.

"I will also ask whether their call for more consultation over the DPEP Bill is as a result of them being a sheltered workshop worker, a family member of a worker, a sheltered workshop provider, or a concerned member of the public.

"I intend to publicly release the results of both of these surveys as soon as they are available", Dr Newman said.

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