NOT FAIR: Rod Gardiner has been working with Nathan and Sydney Watego since early this year when he found out about the injustices of the Supported Wage System
NOT FAIR: Rod Gardiner has been working with Nathan and Sydney Watego since early this year when he found out about the injustices of the Supported Wage System

Rod responds to Morning Bulletin readers’ disbelief

Since the "Just Not Fair' article(s) were published in The Morning Bulletin on Tuesday, November 5 I have been approached by many people, the majority of whom I barely know.

The first two questions have inevitably been:

1: How can this possibly be allowed to happen?

2: Which supermarket is it?

I have pretty much responded the same every time:

1: You would need to ask the government as they condone it. Good luck with that.

2: It is irrelevant. It could be anyone. They are legally entitled to do so.

I first met Nathan's father, Sydney, in March this year after being asked by a mutual friend if I would be prepared to assist him with "a couple of letters" to government departments to redress what the Watego family perceived to be wrongs - that is how Nathan's wage could be slashed overnight by 40 per cent ($11,000) under an involuntary Supported Wage System.

Nearly eight months and hundreds of letters later I am still fighting for fair on their behalf. There have been countless obstacles along the way - more than Red Rum ever encountered in his historic treble of Grand National victories at Aintree in 1973, 1974 and 1977.

We have managed, to date, to get Nathan's hourly rate increased from 60 per cent to 75 per cent - from $12.86 to $16.08. Still a long way shy of the 100 per cent - currently $21.44 - he was paid for 11 years before his employer saw fit to "volunteer" him for the SWS.

We are continuing the fight against what I believe is a blatant case of discrimination and exploitation - the disadvantaged being disadvantaged with the government's blessing.

This is not about the employer concerned or any other employer responsible for "volunteering" more than 5700 disabled Australians into the SWS in the 2018-2019 financial year alone.

It is all about the government allowing it to happen.

Nathan has been performing the same job with the same employer for 13 years - the first 10 years at 100 per cent, the next two years at 60 per cent and since June 2019 at 75 per cent of the basic minimum wage.

This is a young man who, despite his severe intellectual disability, got off his backside and joined the workforce at age 18 and has been working ever since.

Why? Because he has self-esteem, he wanted an independent lifestyle (best it can be) and wanted to contribute to his community.

I would proffer that is no different to you or I.

Yet the government allows his employer to put all of that in jeopardy courtesy of its Supported Wage System which, put bluntly, saves his employer $11,000 on the bottom line of its wages budget and costs Nathan the equivalent in earnings.

(N.B: His Disability Support Pension does pick up some of the differential).

Yet the government is willing to "pay" non-disabled people, some who will never get off their backsides and often create havoc within our community, $489.70 per fortnight on Newstart, or the dole as it used to be, at the taxpayers' expense.

Nathan, if he so chose, could sit on his backside and "earn" $933.40 per fortnight at the taxpayers' expense other than getting up off the couch once in a while to go fishing.

I would challenge our Federal Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry to raise this issue in parliament.

To be fair, Michelle has offered some assistance along the way but I personally could have directed our grievances to this or that Minister myself with the same result - nada, zilch.

The matter (or at least part thereof) is currently back before the Fair Work Commission. I am also working on an estimated 100-odd page submission to the current Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

I thank The Morning Bulletin (in particular editor Frazer Pearce and reporter Meg Bolton) for highlighting this issue and remain hopeful we will get a favourable outcome for Nathan and the thousands of other disabled Australians who simply want to work for a fair wage.

Yours sincerely,

Rod Gardiner

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