Government’s payment plan for disabled workers ‘another attack’ on the most vulnerable

6 June 2014
Employment law firm Maurice Blackburn, which is running a discrimination class action on behalf of thousands of underpaid intellectually disabled workers, has raised grave concerns about the Federal Government's recent move to legislate a payment scheme that will see the workers paid just half of what they would receive if the court case is successful.

The Government introduced a bill to Parliament yesterday that effectively contains an offer to pay the underpaid intellectually disabled workers a proportion of their lawful entitlements - but only if they waive their right to be part of the class action.

Maurice Blackburn employment law principal Josh Bornstein said it was particularly disappointing to see the Government's scheme would pay disabled workers - some who earn less than $1 an hour - only half of the money they would be owed if their court claim is successful.

"The Government's actions are another attack on disabled workers, who are some of the most vulnerable and lowly paid members of our community," Mr Bornstein said.

"At a time of rising income inequality and in one of the wealthiest, most successful economies in the world, the Federal Government is seeking to nickel and dime the disabled.

"It is grossly unfair for the Government to require workers to opt out of the class action to access the payment scheme.

"And the Government's offer to pay just 50 per cent of what is owed is a slap in the face for these workers, who make up the lowest paid employees in Australia."

In December 2012, the Full Federal Court ruled that intellectually disabled workers had been subjected to unlawful underpayment on wages in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act. The High Court upheld the Federal Court ruling.

Despite this, the Government continues to allow more than 10,000 workers at disability enterprises around Australia to be paid unlawful wages. Maurice Blackburn, in conjunction with the AED Legal Centre, commenced the Federal Court class action in December 2013.

Shortly after the action was started, the Government announced an offer to make a one-off payment to underpaid workers, but only if they waived their right to be part of the class action. Maurice Blackburn then obtained a Federal Court order to prevent the underpaid intellectually disabled workers from being misled about their legal rights.

At the same time, the Government sought an exemption from the Disability Discrimination Act in relation to the wages of intellectually disabled workers. That exemption was denied by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The class action is due to return to the Federal Court in July.