Lawyers for disabled workers urge cross-bench senators to vote against unfair payment scheme

17 March 2015
Law firm Maurice Blackburn, which is representing up to 10,000 intellectually disabled workers in a class action to recover backpay, is urging cross-bench senators to reject a bill that would further disadvantage these vulnerable workers.

Under the Federal Government’s Business Services Wage Assessment Tool Bill, disabled workers who have been underpaid in breach of anti-discrimination laws while working at Australian Disability Enterprises will receive only half of the back pay owed to them.

To access the Government’s payment scheme, the bill will also require workers with intellectual disability to waive their rights to pursue legal action over the unlawful pay.

Head of employment law at Maurice Blackburn, Josh Bornstein, said the defeat of the bill was needed to protect the rights of workers with an intellectual disability, some who are paid less than $1 an hour.

“This bill is an attack on employees with an intellectual disability, who are some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable people in our community,” Mr Bornstein said.

“The bill will not address the discrimination experienced by workers with intellectual disability, and will stop these underpaid workers getting all the back pay they are entitled to.

“This bill has already been defeated once, but the Federal Government continues to try and scare Senate cross benchers into thinking that if the back pay claim is to proceed, the employment of the employees will be jeopardised. This is false. The Federal Government is liable for the backpay, not the Australian Disability Enterprises that employ these workers.”

Lawyers have been acting for the intellectually disabled workers on a pro bono basis since 2009.

The class action underway in the Federal Court followed decisions by the full Federal Court confirming that the employees have been subjected to years of unlawful underpayment in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Despite this, more than 10,500 workers with intellectual disability continue to have their wage assessed using this discriminatory tool.

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