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Feeling good, doing harm – revisited

It is so easy to do harm while thinking you’re doing good. In today’s edition: exemptions from minimum wages for severely disabled workers.

There’s a dignity in work. For some severely disabled people, the work they can provide simply is not worth anything close to $15 dollars per hour to anyone else, but the work is extremely valuable to them. Work is a social environment. And it brings meaning.

Labour killed off sheltered workshops back in 2007 when it repealed the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act. But they maintained a process where employers could apply to pay less than the minimum wage to workers limited by disabilities. They’re not much used: Radio NZ reports 817 permits were granted as of last October.

And now there’s talk of removing that exemption. It’s a terrible idea. Most of the damage was done when Labour killed the sheltered workshops, so the extra damage this would do is proportionately smaller. But it would matter a lot to the hundreds of people whose employment will be killed.

It’s easy to make a rights-based argument combined with a fair bit of wishful thinking:

But Sacha O’Dea of the Ministry of Social Development said the permit scheme treated people with disabilities differently from other New Zealand citizens.

“It’s not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

The convention recognised the right of people with disabilities to have the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that was open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.

Ms O’Dea said the exemption permit was also out of step with modern thinking about disability which focussed on what people could do, with support, rather than a deficit model of what they couldn’t do.

Boy, that sounds nice.

But remember Karl du Fresne’s excellent Listener piece on what happened with the closing of the sheltered workshops. His accompanying blog post is also worthy.

If MSD wants to get those workers up to minimum wage by providing them with a wage subsidy, that’s great. But the rest of it falls pretty cleanly into the category of feeling good and doing harm.

Previously:

About Eric Crampton (87 Articles)
I'm Head of Research with the New Zealand Initiative.

3 Comments on Feeling good, doing harm – revisited

  1. “The convention recognised the right of people with disabilities to have the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that was open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.”

    It is surely inherent in that statement that disabled people must be free to offer their labour at a price an employer is willing to pay. Any other interpretation requires Orwellian contortions. And what is it with the mindless cruelty of people like Sacha O’Dea? The pictures of the two guys working at SDE are touching. How can anyone want to take away what they have, which clearly means so much to them? Ian Beker, in contrast to the likes of Sacha O’Dea, appears to have the proverbial heart of gold.

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  2. John Waldmann // April 27, 2016 at 2:55 pm // Reply

    The simplest and most efficient mechanism for enabling disabled to participate with both dignity and benefit in the workforce is to treat them as are pensioners: maintain their state disability benefits and support payments –without abatement – when they take up gainful employment and set the disabled minimum wage at 75% of the Adult minimum wage.
    This measure alone would eliminate much of the administration overhead for employers (no need for the employer to apply for subsidies), instead they need only sight the disabled persons Confirmation of Disability provided by WINZ.
    The benefit to the disabled person is clear, they retain sufficient means to live, and as they take up increased employment they retain sufficient means to travel to work (often more expensive than for regular employees), they also retain support for health related expenses and rehabilitation the enables employability, and every dollar they earn is retained (less PAYEand ACC levies). More importantly their earnings reflect a real value to the employer, and their participation in the wider community is enhanced. MSD & ACC administration becomes simplified as there would be significant reduction in needless income reporting, abatement management including debt recovery,and less cycling of some individuals on and off benefits.
    During the disabled persons transition to new employment, it would make sense that a small support payment is provided to the employer to meet any special equipment requirements necessary to a disabled persons employment, and or temporary employment of a facilitator during the training phase. Such transition payments are already provided by ACC, and more rarely by WINZ – although with a number of fishhooks for both employers and disabled employees alike.
    The present regimes (ACC and WINZ) fail to enable many disabled, and enforce financial and emotional penalties that abrogate any social dignity or intended improvement in a persons financial security and independance. It is well known that their are bad employers who take advantage of Transition to WorK provisions by the state, but then fail to meet the basic needs of disabled employees. Treating disabled persons who seek employment under the same abatement regime as pensioners at least removes one of the most significant barriers to work (crippling abatement rates) so even a bad employer has little impact on the persons basic economic security. It also removes the benefit standout issue for a poorly employed disabled person who chooses that quitting employment in a detrimental job.
    Addressing such measures will be critical, in the immediate future, as New Zealand is just now coming to grips with the demographic crunch the reflects an ageing and increasing disabled population in which more than half the adult population is of retirement age. Many retired persons have necessary skills in the economy, and so to many disabled persons. The simplest and most efficient mechanism for enabling disabled to participate with both dignity and benefit in the workforce is to treat them as are pensioners: maintain their state disability benefits and support payments –without abatement – when they take up gainful employment and set the disabled minimum wage at 75% of the Adult minimum wage.
    This measure alone would eliminate much of the administration overhead for employers (no need for the employer to apply for subsidies), instead they need only sight the disabled persons Confirmation of Disability provided by WINZ.
    The benefit to the disabled person is clear, they retain sufficient means to live, and as they take up increased employment they retain sufficient means to travel to work (often more expensive than for regular employees), they also retain support for health related expenses and rehabilitation the enables employability, and every dollar they earn is retained (less PAYEand ACC levies). More importantly their earnings reflect a real value to the employer, and their participation in the wider community is enhanced. MSD & ACC administration becomes simplified as their would be significant reduction in needless income reporting, abatement management including debt recovery,and less cycling of some individuals on and off benefits.
    During the disabled persons transition to new employment, it would make sense that a small support payment is provided to the employer to meet any special equipment requirements necessary to a disabled persons employment, and or temporary employment of a facilitator during the training phase. Such transition payments are already provided by ACC and more rarely by WINZ -although with a number of fishhooks for both employers and disabled employees alike.
    The present regimes (ACC and WINZ) fail to enable many disabled, and enforce financial and emotional penalties that abrogate any social dignity or intended improvement in a persons financial security and independance. It is well known that their are bad employers who take advantage of Transition to WorK provisions by the state, but then fail to meet the basic needs of disabled employees. Treating disabled persons who seek employment under the same abatement regime as pensioners at least removes one of the most significant barriers to work (crippling abatement rates) so even a bad employer has little impact on the persons basic economic security. It also removes the benefit standout issue for a poorly employed disabled person who chooses that quitting employment in a detrimental job.
    Addressing such measures (i.e., those enabling full participation) will be critical, in the immediate future. New Zealand is just now, barely, coming to grips with a demographic crunch that reflects an ageing and increasing disabled population in which more than half the adult population is of retirement age. Many retired persons have necessary skills for the economy, and so to many disabled persons.

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