Advocates Call Sub-Minimum Wage Rule "Discriminatory"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 25, 2003
CALGARY, ALBERTA--The firing and rehiring of two Calgary bookstore workers is drawing attention to a policy that allows businesses to pay employees with disabilities less than those without disabilities.
The minimum wage in Alberta is $5.90 an hour. But the province has an exemption that allows employers to pay workers with disabilities as little as $2.95 an hour.
Stephen Whiteside, who has Down syndrome, and a coworker with cerebral palsy, were fired two weeks ago from their jobs at Chapters books "for financial reasons."
Whiteside had been paid $3 an hour, working 12 hours per week, for the past three years. It was an agreement arranged between the store and Whiteside's mother. The store had not applied for an exemption to the minimum wage, however, government officials say Chapters likely would have been granted one had they applied.
Public pressure mounted against Chapters after a local news agency learned about the firings. Chapters said letting the men go was a mistake, and hired both men back this week at the hourly wage of $5.90.
Odette Danzer, with the Developmental Disabilities Resource Centre of Calgary, told CBC News that the province's policy exemption discriminates against people with disabilities.
"We support well over 200 clients (and) we have 10 people making less than minimum wage. We've been working to change that," Danzer said. "You apply to have a person who you believe cannot contribute the same as you or I can. And therefore they shouldn't be paid the same, which really is discriminatory."
"Especially in Stephen's case, because he was doing the same work as other staff at Chapters and yet he was being paid less."