Disability wage case to set precedent

A COFFS Harbour woman has taken on the Federal Government in an attempt to win a pay rise for an estimated 20,000 Australian workers with disabilities.

Elisabeth Nojin has just returned home after attending 14 days of hearings in the Federal Court of Australia in Victoria in the case, which pits two men with disabilities against the full might of the federal government.

Those men are Mrs Nojin’s 44-year-old son, Michael, who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, poor motor skills and an intellectual disability, and 58-year-old Victorian man Gordon Prior, who has vision and intellectual impairment

Mrs Nojin said it might be months before there was a decision, following the two weeks of hearings before Justice Gray.

The case, launched by the Association of Employees with Disability Legal Centre, challenges a process which the centre says discriminates against workers with disabilities.

They are claiming that under a Federal work assessment tool, introduced in 2004, workers with disabilities have been paid unreasonably low wages.

Michael Nojin was paid $2.46 an hour by his employer, Coffs Harbour Challenge, until he was reassessed under the Business Service Wage Assessment Tool which calculated his wage at $1.79 an hour. Mr Nojin worked sweeping floors and shredding documents. He is now on Workcover.

Mr Prior, who worked for Stawell Intertwine Services as a gardener, had his $2 an hour pay increased to $3.82 an hour in 2007 but was then reassessed at $3.47 an hour.

In 2008 Mr Prior began work at a dry cleaning business and was paid $10.33 an hour after being assessed using a different tool, the Supported Wage System, which took into account only his productivity, not his competence in other workplace matters.

The Supported Wage System is paid for by employers, but the BSWAT system is paid by the government and was introduced in 2004 for workplaces formerly known as sheltered workshops.

A solicitor with the AED Legal Centre, Kairsty Wilson, said she did not know of any workplace in which wages were based on what to do if there was a fire drill or where you lost wages if you did not know the answer to what to do if you did not get on with other workers.

Mr Nojin and Mr Prior are seeking back pay and compensation from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

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