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Marion Miller

Unintended Consequences

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As parents of an intellectually disabled son who is positively and gainfully involved with a sheltered workshop, we are disappointed that the Labour Government, Progressive, New Zealand First, the Maori Party, the Greens and United Future all colluded together to pass the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Repeal (and related matters) Bill. These MP’s obviously do not know, or care; about the discrimination and other imposed intrusions this Act has on the basic human rights and quality of life of people with intellectual disabilities. These are not, and never would be, imposed on other members of society.

Our son loves his ‘job’ at the recycling centre. He has been there for almost eight months, during that time he has been evaluated twice because of the requirements of this new Act. (This has been introduced by stealth). Yesterday human resource staff was advised by the Department of Labour inspectors, that our son’s March 2007 evaluation would only be valid for two months. This implies the Department of Labour inspectors are looking at different assessments* to the very comprehensive one that is currently used by Human Resource staff at Southland Enterprises. Meaning yet another assessment! Staff at his workplace know and observe his capabilities on a daily basis. They know if his skills comply with the requirements of the Ministry of Social Development who implement the legislation. An inspector from a Government Department has no knowledge or first hand experience of assessing disabled clients.

Being a cynic we wonder what the real agenda of government is. The discrimination we are seeing is only one example of many others which were brought to the attention of the Minister, the officials, the Social Services Select Committee prior to the passing of this legislation.

The newly passed legislation is already affecting the quality of life of approximately 3000 intellectually and physically disabled people throughout New Zealand who are presently involved with ‘sheltered workshops’. Locally 50% of those who have been placed into employment have resigned from their jobs because of their inability to manage the extra pressure of being “employed” in the workforce.

Sheltered workshops in New Zealand provide essential daily therapeutic activities and social interaction to people who do not have the capacity or skills to earn a basic wage. The alternative, offered by the ministry officials to attending sheltered workshops, is to do voluntary community work. As a voluntary worker in this community, I know that there are no spare resources available to provide supervision in the voluntary sector. Parents see this option as putting our family members onto the streets and sitting around at home. Been there and done that over 20 years ago, not going back!

This emotional premise used to drive this legislation by Unions, the Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Society IHC, Crippled Children’s Society CCS, and Disabled Persons Assembly DPA, and the Minister of Disability Issues and her officials, (who are not stakeholders in the outcomes of this Bill), is based upon the implication that Sheltered Workshop ‘business’ are ‘sweat shops’ which exploit disabled workers. Nothing is further from the truth; these services provide meaningful activities, which occupy disabled people in ways, which extend their skills in the hope that they will find employment. Where this is not possible for attendees, being involved in ‘work’ however small, does effectively give meaning and purpose to their lives.

The second reason or argument used is that the legislation that allowed Sheltered Workshops to operate was discriminatory in that it allowed Workshops to set wages and was not bound by the Minimum Wages Act. (The United Nations has stated that discriminatory legislation that has positive outcomes is not only desirable but essential if it improves quality of life for individuals).

Just another fine example of our ‘nanny’ state. Parents, families and service providers, will continue to bring examples of “unintended consequences” from this flawed legislation to the attention of sound sensible New Zealander’s who will decide for themselves at the next election.

* An assessment is required to allow an exemption from payment of basic wages based on capability