After outrage, government extends program that employed 50 people with developmental disabilities

Posted on March 20, 2015 in Debates – Canada/Politics
March 19, 2015.   Chris Cobb, Postmedia News |

The federal government extended a work program for 50 developmentally disabled Ottawa workers Thursday in the face of public outrage that they had been cut loose after dedicating decades of their working lives to sorting and disposing of federal documents.

Pierre Poilievre, regional minister and MP for Nepean-Carleton, announced the extension with the promise of a permanent solution after the extension ends May 1.

“I will use this time to find out the needs of all departments that these great workers would be well-suited to do,” said Poilievre. “The goal will be to secure the same jobs or find very similar ones for them.”

Poilievre said the Prime Minister’s Office had also been involved in the decision.

In a letter to Poilievre, Ottawa South Liberal MP David McGuinty, said the cancellation of the program was “callous” and urged him to permanently reinstate it.

As offers of help and support poured in, and public outrage grew on social media — aimed mostly at the federal government — questions were also being asked as to why any Canadian worker would be paid the lowly equivalent of $1.15 an hour.

The Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD) had been administering the Tunney’s Pasture work program for 35 years in a joint agreement with Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and the provincial government.

LAC paid $124,600 to OCAPDD, which in turn divided the money as “honorarium” payments among the workers — amounting to approximately $2,000 each per year, or $1.15 an hour.

The province funded the salaries of two OCAPDD staff to supervise the workers who also receive provincial disability payments in the $800-$1,000 a month range, depending on their circumstances.

The province also pays their health and dental coverage.

OCAPDD Executive Director Dave Ferguson said the eventual “ideal” aim is to get the workers to minimum wage level.

“Unfortunately we’re not there yet,” he said. “This program was established long before any concern about that kind of standard. … To them it’s not just a job but a social network — their friends and a sense of belonging. The honorarium that they receive does trigger additional funds from ODSP (provincial disability payments) while keeping it at a low enough level so they don’t lose their benefits.”

Another part of the program’s value, added Ferguson, is that it has been a “stepping stone” to getting work skills and allowing some participants to graduate into minimum-wage jobs or higher.

Employing workers at less than minimum wage is basically saying that they have lesser value than other citizens, said Keenan Wellar, co-leader of LiveWorkPlay, an organization dedicated to community integration of the intellectually disabled.

“Why should they receive minimum wage? For the same reason as anybody else,” he said. “Are they learning skills that will help them move forward into a competitive job? Research shows that a segregated, pseudo-work environment is a disadvantage not an advantage. So it’s probably a barrier, not an asset.”

LAC had signalled to OCAPDD several years ago that it would be getting out of the document-disposal business to focus on its core mandate of collecting and archiving.

OCAPDD managers said that on pure economic grounds they had expected another government department to take over the paper-disposal task and allow the 50 workers to continue their “meaningful work.”

All government departments and agencies are now responsible for their own paper disposal — a system that OCAPDD says is guaranteed to cost taxpayers significantly more money.

Because workflow into the Tunney’s Pasture plant has been halted, Ferguson said alternative work will be found for the OCAPDD clients during the temporary extension period.

< >

Tags: , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Friday, March 20th, 2015 at 10:17 am and is filed under Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply