Should employers hire more disabled workers?

The AM Show 23/05/2019

Three-quarters of people with disabilities currently unemployed actually want to work, new research has found.

But those that are working are still more likely to be in poverty than the rest of the population, some working for just a fraction of the minimum wage.

New research by the Maxim Institute has found 74 percent of people with an impairment who are not working, want to be. Chief executive Alex Penk says it's having a detrimental effect on their lives.

Typically they pay higher living costs as a result of having disabilities.

"So what this is means if you've got a  particular group of people with an increased risk of poverty," he told Newshub.

But Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said on Thursday there are more than 900 people in New Zealand being paid less than the minimum wage of $17.70 because they're disabled.

NZME reports some are being paid less than $1 an hour, and it's completely legal.

The policy is discriminatory towards disabled people and a commitment was made to reviewing it as part of the 2014-2018 Disability Action Plan," Sepuloni told NZME.

Some are employed by Altus, a company which does work contracted by Air NZ. NZME reported on a blind woman paid $2.30 an hour who said she would find it "nearly impossible" to get a job anywhere else, but wished they'd pay her more.

Penk said it was a "confronting" figure to hear.

You can be worse off as a result of having to come to work.

Disabled employees paid below the minimum wage are generally entitled to benefits paid via the Ministry of Social Development. The Altus employee NZME spoke to said she didn't get anything - the $2.30 an hour wage was all she had to live on.

Penk says having work is important for wellbeing.

"Work was a source of real satisfaction, real meaning for a lot of people. And so [the unemployed are] missing out on that broader societal participation as well as the issue and the risk that comes along with poverty, which is one we're sadly all too familiar with."

Altus said it's both a business and a charity, providing work for people who can't get it elsewhere.

"Their productive capacity is extremely low which is why they work here," chief executive Martin Wylie told NZME.

These people can't do equal work.

In February, Sepuloni said the Government was looking at ways to ensure people with disabilities get paid fairly, announcing a plan to replace the Minimum Wage Exemption scheme with a wage supplement, saying low pay rates are discrimination.

We know that this is a discriminatory act.

"We've been aware of it as a country for quite some time. Now we're in Government… it's something I want to do something about."

Penk says the demand from the disabled is there.

Around three-quarters of them say they want to be working.

You can hear there's a real challenge and there's a real need and an opportunity there actually to engage people in the workforce that aren't engaged at the moment."

His group backs the wage supplement idea, saying it wouldn't cost very much.

"It would be really worth doing."

The AM Show / Newshub reporters Delphine Herbet & Dan Satherley