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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5608

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) (4:11 PM) —These disabilities standards are about delivering guaranteed minimum service levels for people with disabilities in all Commonwealth employment services. Disability employment services must meet these standards by 2005. The standard subject to disallowance today ensures:

Each person with a disability enjoys comparable working conditions to those expected and enjoyed by the general workforce.

A key performance indicator of this standard will be the payment of fair wages to all employees. There are a number of methods available and already being used to assess wages in disability employment services. There is, however, no single tool suitable for both open and supported employment. This is not surprising, given the significant differences between the two types of services. Open employment provides jobs for people in workplaces that have a mix of employees, whereas supported employment is often provided in a business service previously known as a sheltered workshop.

In the business service workplace, tasks may have to be specifically designed for people with severe disabilities and there may not be any workers without disabilities doing these specific tasks. Therefore we do not wish to mandate a particular wage assessment method for all service types. However, we are working with the sector to develop a new national wage assessment tool that will meet, along with existing tools, the requirements of standard 9 for business services, a sector that in the past has not been required to pay award based wages.

If standard 9 is disallowed there will be no standard for wages and conditions for any employment services. This means that employment services may be certified for Commonwealth funding without being required to pay fair wages. Under our new quality assurance legislation, services need to be fully certified under these standards by December 2004. Services that are not certified by this time will not be funded from 2005. The industry sector has told us that they need a new wage assessment tool in order to make standard 9 work effectively.

We are in the final stages of developing a new wage assessment tool. It is currently being trialled. The new tool includes both competency and productivity components and provides links to training and career advancement. It will also use trained, accredited assessors. It will be available to the industry by early next year. They are expecting it and waiting for it. A new wage assessment tool is needed so that business services can prepare themselves in time to pay award wages in order to receive certification by December 2004. The government is developing a new tool because there is currently no suitable age assessment tool that can be used for all business services.

The existing supported wage system, SWS, does not work satisfactorily for most business services, because it is based on a productivity comparison between an able-bodied worker and a worker in open employment with a disability both doing exactly the same job. Such a ready comparison is not always possible in business services where jobs have been redesigned around the person with the disability and there is no similar job in open employment. Independent evaluation of the SWS in 2000 found that it was not necessarily suitable for all business services, especially where there are clients with high support needs or episodic conditions.

The disability service standards and key performance indicators have been developed through an extensive consultation process over many years. The industry and its stakeholders have travelled this journey with us from the outset and have been steadily working towards the new requirements. ACROD has made it clear that the requirement to pay award based wages will be a challenge for many in business services but still ACROD has signed up to the changes. Why? Because ACROD also believes that the new system and standard 9 will ultimately provide better outcomes for people with disabilities. That is the real bottom line here.

Standard 9 deliberately does not specify any particular tool; rather, it specifies criteria against which the tool should be assessed and includes the supported wage system as an example. The new tool will meet these criteria; however, this new tool will not be compulsory as a number of leading businesses are already paying award based wages using different wage assessment tools that would satisfy the standard. That is fine so long as they are transparent and they are paying against an award. Employment services and auditors have been given detailed guidelines that have been developed against all the proposed standards and key performance indicators. We have provided advice and help from a number of different kinds of services on what works and what does not work. Moreover, to ensure consistent and accurate interpretation of both of those aspects, the department has funded a training course for auditors.

If you get out there and talk to the sector, you do find excellent services implementing creative and innovative ways of meeting all the standards. The landscape of disability employment services is changing and it is changing for the better. People with disabilities, their carers and families will now have confidence in the quality of the employment service they choose. They deserve no less. The government support all workers having basic rights and conditions. We will not back down from that. We have come up with a legislative framework that gives disability employment services a new way of doing business and gives their clients a new confidence. I am sure history will record standard 9 as a defining moment in the ongoing call by people with disabilities for a fair go. To disallow it would be to disallow people with disabilities a fundamental right—the right to be treated the same as everyone else.