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Sheltered Workshops And Families Object To Minimum Wage Bill
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 18, 2005

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND--Last May, the New Zealand government introduced a measure into Parliament that would require the nation's 35 sheltered workshops to provide the same pay and employment rights to workers with disabilities as those without.

Government officials said at the time that the proposal was designed to show its commitment to an inclusive society, and to force such facilities to comply with newer, more appropriate concepts about the abilities and rights of people with disabilities.

The proposal, however, is coming under attack from sheltered workshops, politicians, and the workers' family members who complain that they were not asked their opinion.

Sheltered workshop providers, which usually do contract work for businesses, claim that being able to pay "sub-minimum" wages has allowed them to employ workers who would not be hired elsewhere. They claim that being forced to pay regular wage would cause them to shut down their facilities or terminate most of the 3,700 people with disabilities currently employed through sheltered workshops.

Most of those workers currently receive $50 a week. A bill in Parliament would require sheltered workshops to pay the minimum wage of $9.50 an hour, or to negotiate lower rates based on each worker's productivity level.

The mother of one man, whom she reportedly described as "40 going on 8", has gathered more than 4,000 signatures over the last six weeks in an effort to get the law delayed until the government can talk to the workers and their families about their concerns.

Critics have compared sheltered workshops to "sweat-shops" that segregate and isolate people and devalue them by paying less than what they are worth.

When the proposal was introduced last year, Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson said the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Bill would repeal the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act 1960, which does not comply with domestic and international human rights legislation.

"What will change is the standard of the employment environment in which people with disabilities work," she said.

Dyson explained this week that, while worries over some New Zealand businesses contracting with other countries rather than domestic sheltered workshops might be valid, they are not an excuse to discriminate against workers with disabilities.

"We have standards that we expect our employers to meet," she said.

"You could say we should have no environmental standards and no safety standards so that we can compete anywhere in the world. Is that what New Zealanders want?"

Related:
"Job fears in row over special pay rates for special people" (New Zealand Herald)

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?ObjectID=10115817
"Bill will do grave harm to the disabled" (New Zealand Herald)
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=1&ObjectID=10115430

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