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Irish Voice News
Handicapped Being Abused at Work
August 30, 2007
By Paddy Clancy
THE Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Equality Authority are probing claims that thousands of disabled and mentally handicapped people are being outrageously exploited by charities and big business.
Some people with learning disabilities were reported to be earning the equivalent of just $7 per week in what’s known as sheltered workshops where they carry out light tasks while undergoing therapeutic work programs for charities and hospitals.
A number receive no pay at all, it has been claimed. The Irish Times said it had established that a 46-year-old intellectually disabled man doing sheltered work in a hospital as a carer’s assistant was paid nothing.
He told the paper, “Of course I’d like some money, but they told me I’m doing voluntary work. It is tiring work but otherwise I’d have nothing to do.”
One claim being investigated by the Equality Authority is that disabled people at Peamount Hospital, near Dublin, are paid less than $18 a week to make boxes for packaging giant Smurfit Kappa.
Both Peamount and Smurfit Kappa said the scheme was designed simply to help disabled or mentally frail people become part of a working environment as part of their therapy. Smurfit Kappa said it had been approached by Peamount and that it had no idea what the workers there were paid.
People with disabilities are paid a weekly $254 allowance by the state. It is unaffected by allowances earned for tasks carried out at the sheltered workshops.
But campaigners believe the system is grossly exploitative.
The separate investigations by the HSE and the Equality Authority were prompted by concerns about the legal implications of people with learning disabilities being paid below the legal minimum wage of around $11 an hour even though their “work” was therapeutic.
Some of the work involved shrink-wrapping two-for-one offers for profitable supermarkets and putting inserts into mail shots.
Inclusion Ireland, a leading advocacy group for people with disability, believes the HSE and Equality Authority investigations could lead to the workshops being shut down for good.
Inclusion Ireland’s acting chief executive Cliona Ni Chualain, said that with a lack of regulation, people were being exploited.
Michael Ringrose, head of another advocacy group, People With Disabilities in Ireland, said that where people are engaged in activities that are profitable for others or are similar to paid employment then they should be paid the appropriate rate for the job.
“The fact that people with intellectual disabilities receive as little as $18 a week in some training centers is a remnant of a severely outdated system that should have no place in modern society. A clear divide needs to be struck between what constitutes employment and what is genuinely therapeutic activity,” he said.
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