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Australian Disability Enterprises

The Battle for Common Sense over Ideology

Choice Voice and Control?


Many of our members work in ADEs and member families support sons and daughter's who are employed in ADEs.


People have a variety of views on ADEs and all these views are legitimate but must be viewed through the prism of individual ability to be self-motivated and what the individual wants from their lives. Disability and capacity are complex issues and needs and outcomes are very different for each person.


We support you to seek the best option for either yourself or if you are family, your family member. We also feel that it comes down to personal choice. Many people with intellectual disability who work in ADEs say that ADEs are their preferred option and one that should remain in the mix for the people who love their job and prefer secure tenure of having supported employment and the easy engagement with their friendship groups.


Many people who work in ADEs are more likely to fail in mainstream employment or who, for whatever other social, emotional or complex reason, will never achieve mainstream employment.


The information below is to provide you with the evidence for informed decision-making regarding this issue.. Currently the only people who have had no say are the people who actually work in ADEs.


Are ADEs just a workplace?


Many people see ADEs as far more than a mere place of employment. ADEs help foster friendships, social connections and provide workers who need a supported employment option to retain employment. This provides the same opportunities as other members of the community to live lives of dignity and purpose.


As many of you will be aware if this concerns you, the viability of Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs) is at risk because of actions which have been in play for more than four years, actions which are very complex and which now involve the Fair Work Commission.


We understand that the ultimate result of this action will likely render many of the ADEs financially unviable and therefore they will be forced to close. Many workers will lose not only their employment but all the social good that employment brings for everyone. This even more specifically for people with intellectual disability for whom employment is so difficult to find and retain. 


The Fair Work Commission web-site (AM2014/286) confirms the funded activist-advocates want “the removal of all wage assessment tools from the Award that contains any competency components as a measure of wages for supported employees“. 


Unions aligning with activist-advocates to force wholesale unemployment


This position is also supported by Unions who are knowingly aligning themselves with the wholesale unemployment of people with intellectual disability, who will be unlikely to ever work again without these costly, government -supported, employment options.


Should the funded activist-advocates and unions succeed in their joint industrial actions, it is estimated that wage costs will increase to a point that ADEs will become economically unviable and close.


We all know that adult wellbeing is directly related to employment. It is absolutely essential that workers, their families, and communities join Our Voice Australia to voice their concerns to ensure that workers in ADEs do not lose their supported employment, along with social networks, forged by work.


Up to 15,000 people currently employed in ADEs, will be unlikely to have continuing viable employment if ADEs are forced to close. It is also unlikely that the open market, currently struggling nationally with high levels of both unemployment and under-employment, will deliver jobs to many of these employees.


You need to you look to the world to understand the repercussions, where similar employment options have closed. We have provided a link further down so that you can view this evidence from the USA for yourself. 


It is inevitable that in such circumstances most people with intellectual disability and/or complex needs working in supported employment will lose their jobs, never to be employed again. The statistics we have seen from overseas where such closures have occurred is that less than 30% of people formerly employed ever get a job in open employment lasting more than 26 weeks. These results have taken years to achieve. This will be a travesty, leaving in its wake social isolation.


Ideology rather than reality?


The position of the disability activists-advocates who have brought these actions or support these actions is an ideological one; their view is that everyone,  irrespective of their disability, including people with moderate, severe intellectual disability and/or complex needs, can work in open employment provided they are provided with the ‘right’ support and if they cannot, it is simply not their problem.


If this were so simple, the unemployment statistics would not be showing 821,738 people receiving disability support pensions of which 12.4% (or 96,000) had an intellectual/learning disability. Of these people, slightly more than 20% or 20,000 people work in ADEs with a full pension and benefits along with supplementary wages.


According to ABS intellectual disability accounts for just 2.9 % of the Australian population and this includes children and the aged (10%) who have associated diseases which impact on cognitive functioning. So the unemployment figures are already staggering for this cohort of working-age people and as it stands currently viable permanent employment options are in the sights of ideologically driven advocates.


The statistics for people with intellectual disability in mainstream employment is not encouraging. Only 30% of people with intellectual disability who have been able to achieve open employment are still employed after 25 weeks, and the figure drops further still with the passage of time. People who are willing to work but are denied the opportunity are also denied the personal and social benefits of dignity, independence, a sense of purpose and the social connectedness that work, brings.


The real question has to be whether we risk mass unemployment of people who not only are currently employed but who also enjoy their jobs based on an ideological position that no wage is better than a wage based on any kind of assessment of output.


In open employment, there is no wage assessment tool with competency, but evidence of being able to do the job for the SWS award (still not full wages and likely to be challenged as well if the activists win this case). If you cannot, if your output is unsatisfactory, the reality is that you lose your job. So in different ways assessment happens in both places, in open employment your position can become unviable if your output is unacceptable.


In supported employment (ADEs) your employment is subsidised and output is only a small part of your employment expectation. 


Willing to Work - Human Rights Commission inquiry (there is no report)


The HRC recently concluded an investigation into employment of people with disability and older Australians.


"The disturbing reality is that labour force participation for people with disability in Australia has changed little over the past twenty years.


As well as having a negative impact on individuals, such low participation remains a persistent public policy problem.


The Inquiry drew on multiple sources of evidence and found that employment discrimination against older people and people with disability is systemic and acts as a significant barrier to workforce participation. It requires responses at multiple levels".


Key data that should support ADEs ongoing viability included in the Willing to Work Report highlights the widespread nature of discrimination against people with disability in employment:


In 2015, 53.4% of people with disability were participating in the labour force, compared with 83.2% of people without a disability. This figure has changed very little over the past 20 years.


People with disability are less likely to be employed full-time (27.0%) than people without disability (53.8%).


Australians with disability are more likely to be unemployed (10.0% compared with 5.3% for those without disability) and face longer periods of unemployment than people without disability.  


Almost one in 12 Australians with disability (8.6%) reported that they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their disability in the past year.


20.5% of young people with disability (aged 15-24 years) reported experiencing discrimination.


Almost half of people with disability aged 15 to 64 years with disability who were unemployed (46.9%) or employed full-time (46.2%) and over a third of those employed part-time (34.6%) reported that the source of discrimination was an employer.


35.1% of women and 28.1% of men reported that they had avoided situations because of their disability in the past 12 months.


In 2014–15 the Australian Human Rights Commission received 3,529 enquiries and 742 complaints about disability discrimination. More than a third of enquiries (35.4%) and complaints (41.0%) were in the area of employment (no data in the report on disability type or age of complainants).


This report clearly supports the view of Our Voice Australia and of thousands of others as to why it is still important that ADE's remain a viable employment option for people who choose to work in ADE’s. Obviously this push for making ADE's non-viable will do little to improve the lives of people with intellectual disability when the very real issues regarding open employment have not been addressed in any meaningful way.


Furthermore, there is no understanding as to whether the NDIS will pick up the financial burden of funding ADE workers (estimate 15,000) who have lost their jobs with adequate funding to provide the socialisation and personal supports that will be needed. We estimate this to cost an additional $1 billion plus per annum, a sum not accounted for by the Productivity Commission.


The USA - The National Report on Employment Services and Outcomes


The largest growth with the closure of the US equivalent of ADEs, was in non-work services (facility-based or community-based) or as we know them, day programs. Between 2002 and 2010, participation in non-work services grew from 33% to 43%, offset by a decline in the percentage of individuals in facility-based work.


Employment Participation for Working-Age People (Ages 16–64)*.


In Vermont, a state used as the poster child for closures of ADE's,  due to the closure of all ADE type employment, shows that just 25.2% of people with intellectual disability were employed in 2012.



ADE's - more than a workplace



As well as supporting people to be productive and to have the sense of fulfilment that comes with work, people who work in ADEs often do not have the capacity to develop their own social networks without additional support. ADEs play a vital role in fostering community/social engagement. To see ADEs close down when there is nothing but an 'ideal' rather than a reality to replace them is of great concern, particularly in rural and regional areas where unemployment is already high.


Becoming a representative party in the Fair Work Commission


Our Voice Australia highlighted our concerns to the Fair Work Commission with respect to the lack of representation of families who support the workers with intellectual disabilities who work in the ADEs.  Accordingly, Our Voice Australia has been permitted to sit in on the discussions and represent the views and interests of parents-carers of workers in ADEs and the views of workers who do not want to lose their jobs.


At the moment Our Voice Australia is recognised only as representing families, parent-carers, and guardians but NOT for workers. It is the aim of Our Voice Australia to also represent the workers who do not want to lose their jobs and who do not want ADEs to close.


We are asking for your help in order to achieve this objective as the matter will now proceed to arbitration. Our Voice Australia would like to represent those workers who feel their wishes, twill and preferences are not being represented by the advocates in this matter.  The matter is in dispute and will go to a hearing in the Fair Work Commission.


To become a representative party we need to ensure that more people who work in ADEs become members of Our Voice Australia. There is no fee for membership. Only through numbers can we protect the employment of the 15,000 people most likely to lose their employment if ADEs are placed in a position where they are no longer a viable employment opportunity.



We will represent the best interests of ADE workers to ensure they enjoy fair wages and conditions commensurate with their employment and for ADEs to remain viable. We want to make sure workers with intellectual disability currently working can continue to work and contribute, including working in an ADE, if that is their preference. 



People choose to work in ADEs. They are free to seek open employment or other options. It all comes down to choice.


So, Voice, Choice and Control?


It would appear that this really means activists voice, activists choice and activists control.


If you work in an ADE or your family member does and you want a voice in your future, to have your say in these actions, become a member. If you are an ADE worker, fill out the ADE worker survey. Take back Your Voice, Your Choice and Your Control - whatever that may mean to you.


Your responses on these issues are up to you, we are simply providing you with the facts so that you can come to your own conclusion.

There are no wrong or right responses to the questions, we want the answers as you see them for your own life.


All completed surveys will be consolidated to show your voice and by taking part, your say will count in these actions.

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