I have plenty more to say about the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) in the other direction (thank you, Toronto Sun), but this has been sitting here for a while and I figure now’s as good a time as any to get to it.
A few months ago, there was a human rights case underway in which a packaging company, now probably (hopefully) out of business, was paying its fully able-bodied employees minimum wage at least while its disabled employees received significantly less. The article, by Christie Blatchford, focuses on the sad fact that at the end of this legal mess, the company is out of business completely and at least one of its employees hasn’t managed to hold a steady job since then.
Garrie and her mother told the tribunal that while Garrie and other disabled workers were paid between $1 and $1.25 an hour, the able-bodied who worked beside them, including the mother and another of her daughters who was also able-bodied, earned minimum wage.
The mother said she and her husband were uncomfortable with the pay differential, but didn’t complain because their daughter so enjoyed her work, the socializing it provided, and besides, Szuch “treated her [Garrie] respectfully.”
Szuch, in her late response, elaborated on that, and said the disabled workers didn’t have to punch in, and were allowed to play cards and make crafts while ostensibly on the job.
Strike 1: People who clearly weren’t expected to actually perform the job they were supposedly being paid for, hence the permission to play cards and such while supposedly being paid for it, being allowed to work there in the first place. These are the types of people ODSP, in as much as ODSP does anything like it adequately in the first place, is supposed to be capable of supporting fully–explicitly because they’re not expected to do much insofar as employment goes. And instead, with a smile and a nod, they looked the other way while a company pretended to hire people for work. That’s mostly on the company, who probably should have known better, and the mother turned supervisor, who if she was half as uncomfortable as she said she was wasn’t doing her daughter any favours with this arrangement either. But the kick in the head, as almost per usual, comes from the ODSP itself.
But in her response, Szuch said the company never provided what’s called “supported employment” for disabled people, but rather offered “volunteer trainee” placements for them, with far fewer responsibilities, for which it paid them an honorarium.
And, the response said, all of this was done on the up and up — with the honorariums duly declared to Garrie’s worker and the other disabled trainees’ workers and to the ODSP.
Evidence of that was the fact that while the ODSP occasionally “clawed back” over-payments because of the honorarium, for the most part it was so modest that claw backs weren’t common.
As Bhattacharjee wrote, “I find that the respondent [Szuch], likely with the agreement of the parents of workers with developmental disabilities, intentionally set the honorarium level just under the threshold for claw back of ODSP payments in order to maintain the receipt of such payments from the government.”
ODSP knew, and had no problem taking back their own money if the company paid too much, but here’s a question that isn’t asked in the article at this point–or pretty much ever. The article points out that the ODSP provides income and employment support for disabled people, but where was the employment support part of that arrangement in this situation?
ODSP’s primary goal, aside from income support–which at least they largely got as close to right as they ever do, is supposed to be providing a way for people with the skills to work to get the hell off ODSP. Clearly, ODSP thought these folks had the skills to work, based on the fact they had no problem with these folks working–albeit for what amounts to coffee money. So find them adequate work for adequate pay, and get them the hell off ODSP properly. It may not mean they’re fully independent–at least in terms of, you know, being able to function on their own without parental intervension–but if they’re considered independent enough that they can be shuffled off to work in the morning, then they can damn well be considered independent enough to get paid as much as the person they’re sitting next to doing exactly the same work.
But a closer read of the 33-page decision in fact shows that if the company discriminated against Garrie, it did so with the consent of her parents and likely the complicity of the government.
The company did discriminate against Garie, and the others she worked with. And they did so indeed with the approval of her parents and the government. Stacey Szuch, the former owner of that company, deserves to be ordered to personally pay off every cent she didn’t pay off when she had employees to rip off. Terri-Lynn’s parents ought be slapped with a clue for willingly and knowingly extremely undervaluing whatever work their daughter was obviously skilled enough to do. And I sincerely hope the ODSP case worker who oversaw the ripoff no longer has a job with the ODSP, though I also sincerely doubt it.
The ODSP passively approved of a sheltered work shop for disabled people. Even knowing said sheltered work shop was paying well below the minimum wage–and being aware of it enough to take back any money that was overpayd to workers as a result of it. And the people who should have known better went along with it for kicks. And folks wonder why it is I have difficulty drudging up enough respect for ODSP on a good day.