No business will hire disabled workers if they are forced to pay them the minimum wage, an advocate for people with disabilities says.
The Herald revealed yesterday that a blind woman was being paid $2.30 an hour at Altus Enterprises, an organisation which has minimum wage exemptions to provide work for people with disabilities.
The rules are being described as "discriminatory" by Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni, and wage supplement approach is being proposed.
But Lianne Brown, who has a brother working at Altus earning just under $5 an hour, fears the change could put more than 900 people out of work.
"Unfortunately social conscience no longer exists among businesses here," she said.
Brown said her brother had not been able to find work or hold on to a job until his employment at Altus two years ago.
"My brother may be paid way under the minimum wage, but combined with what he receives from Work and Income [WINZ], he is getting enough to support himself living independently in a one-bedroom flat," she said.
"His work has given him significantly more self esteem, and he loves going to work each day and has made some wonderful friends there."
Brown's brother, who has an intellectual disability, gets about $60 a week for his part-time work at Altus, but receives a further $400 in benefits and allowances.
"In an ideal world, no one would be disadvantaged due to a disability, but in reality we have to accept that they are unfortunately slower and won't be as productive as an able-bodied person," she said.
"Making businesses pay them minimum wage would just ensure two things - that people with disabilities will be out of jobs, and businesses enterprises that provide work for them will shut."
Brown has made a written submission opposing the proposed wage supplement approach.
The blind worker who is paid $2.30 per hour however, said Winz had told her she did not qualify for any allowances because her husband worked and she is a part-owner of a property.
So the $64.40 she gets paid before tax at her job untangling Air New Zealand earphone cords at Altus is her only income.
According to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE), 975 minimum wage exemptions are currently issued for businesses that employed disabled people.
The Herald understands some of these workers are being paid less than $1 an hour when the minimum wage in NZ is $17.70.
Sepuloni said her ministry officials were analysing more than 200 submissions following an industry-wide consultation, and a report to Cabinet was expected later this year.
The Minister said she would not be rushing the process.
"It can't be rushed. We need to be considered in our approach to make sure that disabled people are not made worse off," Sepuloni said.
"That's why we need to ensure disabled people and their families agree with the proposed direction, and we find out how employers think the proposals will affect their businesses."
A new Maxim Institute research "Creating Opportunities: Opening doors to employment for people with disabilities" found New Zealanders with disabilities earned just half of the average income of people without disabilities.
The report also found 74 per cent of people with disabilities who aren't currently working want to be working.
It called for the establishment of a Government employment and disability strategy - with targets, deadlines and progress management, and suggested that a one-stop-shop be set up to provide support and advice for employers.
"Our research shows real opportunity here for the Government to redesign supports for employers and people with disabilities to give both parties the confidence to realise work as a real and sustainable path out of poverty for many," Maxim chief executive Alex Penk said.
"We have to move from simply acknowledging the abilities of New Zealanders with disabilities, and move to creating opportunities that open doors to sustainable, valuable work."
Law firm Buddle Findlay is also working with the Halberg Foundation on a new programme aimed at helping young people with disabilities gain work experience.
The firm is providing work placement opportunities for members of the Halberg Youth Council in its offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.