MEMBER for Riverina and Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, says disability enterprises working in the region are doing fantastic work for their employees and the wider community.
Mr McCormack made the comment after meeting Hugh Packard, the chief executive officer of Tumut-based Valmar Support Services, at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday. The group was at a BuyAbility function following the Disability Enterprise Summit, an event for National Disability Services members.
“It was great to meet up with Mr Packard, who proudly reminded me that Valmar was a large employer in Tumut,” Mr McCormack said.
The purpose of the Summit was to discuss wages for workers with a disability, who are currently paid below award wage. Some advocates are trying to raise their wages through the Fair Work Commission, but Mr Packard said that is not a practical approach.
“They’ve done modelling, and if wages for people with disabilities went up by 40 per cent, over 85 per cent of enterprises like ours would be running in the red,” he said.
Valmar supports people with disabilities to enter the workforce doing things like recycling. Their employees are currently paid an average of $5 an hour. However, this figure doesn’t take into account the extra money invested by businesses to employ people with low-level competency and productivity, Mr Packard explained.
“Five dollars an hour sounds a bit low, but they get their disability support pension as well, so when you add their other income support they actually earn more than the minimum wage,” he said.
He added that it’s difficult for people who aren’t actually running business for people with disabilities, like many advocates, to understand the costs and procedures involved.
“As one of the people at the summit said, if you walk ten metres outside the door, nobody in Australia would understand the complexities of what’s being discussed,” he said.
“These advocates only represent a very small amount of people in the sector, so that’s why we invited the politicians along, to realise that there is this whole other side to it.
“We support about 60 people in our enterprise, and have been politically active in making sure an agreeable wage determination process is set. We want to be able to remain viable and continue to support those people.
“There’s a huge side to it, which advocates seem to completely discount, and that’s that work gives people with disabilities a feeling of participation, the feeling of having a valued role, the social aspect… work is how they keep themselves busy during the day.
“Almost everyone we see that goes to work becomes healthier, they have more money to spend because they aren’t idle for as long, and then there’s the social value – the fact that society sees people who work as part of the mainstream. And in Tumut that means you get to walk around in High-Vis!”
Disability enterprises employ more than 20,500 Australians with a disability.