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Beyond welfare to work.



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Perspective

Monday 20 February 2006

Mick Veitch, Chairperson, Association of Competitive Employment

 

Beyond Welfare to Work  

 

In the world of disability employment, “open employment” means regular work for people with a disability in the ‘real world’ with award-based wages and conditions, alongside people without a disability. 

 

Open Employment Services across Australia help people with a disability find open employment by developing their skills, identifying jobs, readying workplaces and providing the right mix of support to secure and maintain quality employment in the longer term. Services can be tiny or part of a major NFP’s operations. The peak body I chair, ACE National, has 180 organisations as members. 

 

Here’s a snapshot of employment for people with disabilities:  

 

- people with a disability earn an average of 44% of the average Australian’s income.  

 

- people with disability have lower levels of tertiary qualification, post-school and secondary education completion; 

 

- a high proportion of people with disability do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills;  

 

- people with disability often face increased costs associated with everyday living and participation in work or study.  

 

The lack of clearly articulated policies and existing low levels of funding have contributed to lower job retention rates, lower promotion possibilities, limited scope and variety of jobs offered, under-representation in vocational education and training and poor school/post-school pathways for jobseekers with disability.  

 

We desperately need a National Disability Employment Strategy providing better coordination of school to work, welfare to work, education, training and employer awareness initiatives.  

 

This all leads to the politics of the issue. There’s so much political jockeying. ‘Welfare to Work’, ‘Disability Support Pensions’, ‘Work Choices’, ‘Your Rights at Work’ - the list goes on and on; government, interest groups and unions slugging it out. 

 

If we look at the question of what’s reasonable for a jobseeker with disability to do in exchange for income support, it cannot be separated from what’s reasonable for a jobseeker to expect in return.  

 

Work currently being done by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s National Inquiry into Employment and Disability seeks to piece together the disability employment jigsaw. It has become clear that the building blocks for a really robust system are already in place, but better co-ordination is urgently needed.  

 

Evidence of success in employment of people with a disability is everywhere. Perth Regional Roof Trusses has teamed up with employment service DEAFinite; a competitive employment service run by the West Australian Deaf Society.  

 

Half of PRRT’s staff are deaf. Far from being a good deed PRRT sees the move as smart business with a staff that is loyal and dedicated. DEAFinite recruit, prepare and monitor staff for PRRT; holding deafness awareness training with PRRT and hearing awareness training for the new workers. The hard work recently paid off with a win for PRRT in the Prime Minister’s Employer of the Year Awards.  

 

And then there is Wyong-based business, Wideline, which won the NSW Large Business of the Year category. Wideline manufacture aluminium and cedar windows and doors and has built its reputation as a local employer of people with disabilities. It actively encourages employees with a disability to build their skills and career prospects by multi tasking in different sections when the production schedule allows. They’ve developed a Buddy system where partnering of employees allows one on one specific mentoring and competency based training.  

 

These employers support the provision of employment opportunities for people with a disability but an often over-looked but significant point is that many (if not most) of employers would not have considered employing a person with a disability had they not been directly approached to do so by their local Disability Open Employment Service. All this despite talks of labour shortages and growing understanding of the competitive benefits of hiring people with disabilities.  

 

Agencies like DEAFinite spend an average of $3038 per participant. Despite the success stories; despite the low cost per participant a cap in funding means that there are people with a disability wanting work who can’t find a place with an employment agency. 

 

Thus the importance of a National Disability Employment Strategy and with the current focus on welfare reform and sound economic management, it’s crucial to see government investment in providing people real skills and the right support to reduce costs in the long term and take us far beyond the somewhat simplistic understanding of welfare to work.  

 

Guests on this program:

Mick Veitch  

Chair of The Association of Competitive Employment