Intellectually disabled workers are facing a restriction to their rights with a Government bill that restricts the compensation and legal rights available to more than 10,000 underpaid intellectually disabled workers.
Some of the workers were paid as little as $1 per hour after being assessed for their eligibility to work under the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool (BSWAT).
Under the government’s payment scheme, workers will be required to give up their right to sue for back pay in return for a payment equivalent to 50 per cent of their owed wages.
Welfare groups have warned the Federal Government’s crackdown on welfare payments will force more people onto the Newstart allowance, with no prospect of finding a job or looking after their health.
So far more than 7,249 people have had their cases reviewed, and 746, or around 10 per cent, have been told they are no longer medically eligible.
On the ABC 7:30 report, Anthony Fritz – who has suffered from depression and anxiety since his teens – is one of the many young people who was told he is no longer eligible.
“It’s like the rug has been pulled out from underneath me, what do I do now?” he said.
“It feels like I am being punished.”
Mr Fritz’s doctor suggested he apply for the DSP so he could focus on improving his mental health.
“I like working and I hadn’t even thought I could qualify for something like this, but just the idea of having some space to get some help was really appealing to me,” Mr Fritz told 7.30.
The DSP payment enabled Mr Fritz to rent a room in a house in inner Sydney, and start working with a psychologist and psychiatrist.
When he discovered he was to be re-assessed, he did not expect any problems but he was wrong.
“They said ‘you are no longer eligible for the disability pension’,” he said.
“I was angry and I was sad and I didn’t handle the situation.
“I have been working on my mental health and it was going okay but I got this news and all the old habits came back to roost.”
Labor sought to amend the legislation to allow workers to accept a payment without giving up their right to pursue other claims, but the government rejected this proposal.
The Australian Greens joined Labor, and former Palmer United Party senators Glenn Lazarus and Jacqui Lambie in voting against the bill.
Greens spokeswoman on disabilities Rachel Siewert said the payment scheme continued the unfairness of the discriminatory wage tool, because workers would be inadequately compensated for their lost wages.
“The clear message from the people with disabilities and peak disability organisations was that this bill should not have passed the Senate,” Senator Siewert said.
“It is such a shame that people with disability affected now have to choose between a lump sum or class action.”
In a statement to the ABC, Senator Madigan said the amendments that were passed addressed his concerns that the legislation would detrimentally impact the rights of disabled people.
“All people have equal rights to make decisions that affect their lives and to have those decisions respected,” he said.
“Over recent months I have received significant input from people with disabilities and their families. I have visited their places of employment.
“After further extensive consultation with all groups affected, I am satisfied I have made the right decision.
“All people deserve the dignity of work.”
Meanwhile, former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has come under fire for his comment in regards to young people suffering from mental health issues when he told the Australian Council of Social Service that a job is “a prescription for a young person” with mental health problems.
Morrison was also confronted by a disability support protester and mother of three at a post-event press conference, who told the Minister her disability support pension has been taken away and asking him: “how in the hell am I expected to survive?” The Guardian caught the exchange on video.
Know and Protect Your Rights
The Business Services Wage Assessment Tool Payment Scheme Bill 2014: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation/Bills_Search_Results/Result?bId=r5269
The Wage Justice Campaign: http://www.pwd.org.au/campaigns/real-wages-for-real-work.html