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Employment hearings

A Black person with short, thick hair and prescription glasses sits at an organized workstation, using a magnification app to navigate a webpage. Their posture is proper and relaxed. On the desk: a computer, a mouse, a large desk lamp and a small notebook.

Image by Sherm for Disabled And Here

The Royal Commission’s ninth public hearing examined the barriers to open employment for people with disability. People with disability told the Royal Commission about their experiences in finding and keeping jobs, their transitions into and out of the workforce, and their experience of discrimination and exploitation.

You can find transcripts, documents and videos with Auslan interpretation at the Hearing 9 page on the DRC website. They also published an Employment issues paper and a summary of responses from the community – find out more in our blog post about it.

We live-tweeted the hearing, and you can read our commentary at these links: Monday, Tuesday (scroll up for the start – slight technical difficulties mean the full thread doesn’t show up when we link the first one), Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

Public hearing 19 followed up on hearing 9 to ask what employers and regulators are doing about those systemic barriers. Transcripts, videos and documents are available on the Disability Royal Commission’s website. You can catch up on our live Twitter commentary here: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. A brief follow-up hearing presented Counsel Assisting’s submissions and a few responses.

Hearing 21 looked into the experience of people with disability engaging with Disability Employment Services. Transcripts are up on the DRC website, and here’s a summary of the hearing from ABC News.

Our live Twitter threads from Hearing 21:

Wednesday 23 February: Counsel Assisting’s introduction, YDAS advocates, and lived experience witness Mzia

Thursday 24 February: Former AimBig Head of Innovation Matthew Ting, with a brief coda from Ms Divertie of TLH Services.

Friday 25 February: AimBig CEO Marcella Romero, Disability Employment Australia CEO Rick Kane, and DSS Deputy Secretary Debbie Mitchell

Find out more about DES in our position statement and DES review consultation submission.

Another hearing is ongoing from 11 April 2022, focusing on Australian Disability Enterprises (also known as ADEs or sheltered workshops). You can read about the evidence so far in the Guardian and in ABC News. We’ve explained some related language in our Jargon Buster.

Our live Twitter threads from Hearing 22:

Monday 11 April: Lived experience witnesses and Inclusion Australia CEO Catherine McAlpine. Find out more about Inclusion Australia’s proposal to transition away from ADEs.

Tuesday 12 April: Lived experience witnesses, plus the CEO of ADE provider Bedford Group.

Find out more about ADEs from this evidence review we commissioned together with Inclusion Australia.

If you’re having trouble with any technical terms in these hearings, check out our jargon buster section about employment terms. Let us know if there’s something you’d like us to add!


Our Voice – people with disability tell their stories

Illustration of a woman carrying folders

Rethinking Recruitment, by Alex Creece

I just wanted a job, by Liz Hall-Downs

DES: Demoralised, Exploited, Stuck, by Arietta

Working below the poverty line: Jacy’s Australian Disability Enterprise Story


Where we stand on Disability Employment

People with disability in this country experience extraordinary rates of poverty. 38% per cent of us have an income of less than $384 per week, which is about one third lower than the poverty line. Over five times more working age people with disability rely on a government payment as our main source of income, compared to those without disability. [Source – AIHW]

Some factors that leave us out of the workforce:

  • Inaccessible workplaces
  • Lack of flexibility in workplaces and recruitment processes
  • Inaccessible and inflexible education pathways
  • Outright discrimination
  • Lack of support for job-seekers with disability, including actively counter-productive Centrelink rules and systems that are supposed to help us

People with intellectual disability in particular are kept out of open employment at shocking rates, and mostly employed in Australian Disability Enterprises (ADEs), a form of segregated employment where workers are paid as little as a $1 an hour. Less than 1% of the 20,000 people with disability who currently work in an ADE get the opportunity and support to move into open employment. This has to change.

People with disability have plenty to contribute to our community and the economy. And the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is very clear, in Article 27 – Work and employment, that we have a right to work “on an equal basis with others.”

That means:

  • equal pay
  • equal access to the places work happens
  • equal training and development opportunities
  • protection from harassment and coercion
  • safe and healthy working conditions.

Australia has signed the CRPD and promised to make it happen, but we’re still a long way off real equality.

Find out more

DPO Australia Factsheet: Employment of Persons with Disability

The 2016 Willing to Work National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination against Older Australians and Australians with Disability found that too many people are shut out of work because of underlying assumptions, stereotypes or myths associated with their age or their disability. Click through to find the full report, factsheets and an easy read summary, as well as good practice examples for employers.

The PWDA 2019 federal election platform summarised many of the barriers facing people with disability trying to find and keep a job, and proposed a National Jobs Plan to address these barriers.

This year, PWDA made a submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the purpose, intent and adequacy of the Disability Support Pension in collaboration with the Antipoverty Centre. It goes into detail about what needs to be done to make income support for people with disability fit for purpose, including those aspects of the system that are meant to support us in finding work. We also worked with the Antipoverty Centre on a submission to the recent consultation for a new Disability Employment Services program, which you can download here. It builds on our earlier DES Reform submission with DPO Australia.

In a 2018 submission to an Australian Government consultation on the future of supported employment, DPO Australia recommended that a national strategy be implemented to phase out segregated employment, and include measures that support people with disability to transition to mainstream employment.

You can find a lot of information about disability employment generally and the specific barriers for people with intellectual disability at the Everyone Can Work website by Inclusion Australia. We collaborated with them on this evidence review which looks at the impact and experiences of people with an intellectual disability working for sub-minimum wages, transitions to open and self-employment, and what works to support people in open and self-employment.

The IncludeAbility website by the Australian Human Rights Commission has information for people with disability and for employers about disability inclusion.

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