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Friday, 4 February, 2000, 06:01 GMT
Disabled in danger of losing jobs

Workers should all be paid the same, says the DTI


Thousands of workers with severe learning disabilities are in danger of losing their jobs, says a leading charity.

Mencap says that employers who might once have employed learning disabled people on a social basis may cease doing so if they are forced to pay them 3.60 an hour.

Mencap spokeswoman Sarah Christie explained that their concerns surround only people with severe learning disabilities.

She said: "The minimum wage has helped many people with learning disabilities.

"But people who have severe learning disabilities are also employed, even though they may have a productivity rate of 30% of the average.

Not excluded

"An employer may say that they will pay someone 15 a week for doing 15 hours work - and generally everyone is happy with this.

"The person with learning disabilities isn't excluded from a working environment, and gets to go on works dos and generally join in with the team.

"And it's good for the rest of the team too.

"Unfortunately, if employers have to pay the minimum wage, they may have to let these valuable members of their staff go."

Previously, employers were able to pay individuals with severe learning difficulties a wage which reflected their contribution to the workforce.

Breaking the law

Now, Mencap says, many are unintentionally breaking the law. And the charity wants the governement to create a Special Placements category to protect both employers and special employees.

But the Department of Trade and Industry says the answer does not lie in creating get-outs for employers.

It says the only way to protect employees is to clarify the difference between "therapeutic work" and "contractual work".

Spokeswoman Caroline Nagle said: "It is a very simple matter. If employees have a contract, they should be paid the going rate.

'Cannot allow exploitation'

"We cannot allow employers to exploit employees.

"On the other hand, if someone is doing therapeutic work, then the employer is not required to pay them."

She said that "therapeutic work" was organised on a much less formal basis than contractual work, and amounted to work experience or voluntary work.

Ms Nagle added: "It is not this government's intention to put people out of work, but we cannot create exemptions which might be open to abuse."

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See also:
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