Disability discrimination unchanged: Productivity Commission


Disability discrimination unchanged: Productivity Commission

Workplace disability discrimination remains virtually unchanged since the introduction of the federal Disability Discrimination Act, according to the Productivity Commission (PC).


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Workplace disability discrimination remains virtually unchanged since the introduction of the federal Disability Discrimination Act, according to the Productivity Commission (PC).

The finding was released yesterday [14 July 2004] as part of the PC’s inquiry into the effectiveness of the federal Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

The PC report found that disabled people have lower workforce participation and success rates, even without the existence of discrimination.

But when they were participating, many of the submissions to the inquiry cited widespread discrimination and the PC’s own analysis revealed wage discrimination, although limited.  

Some 50% of all complaints received under the DDA were employment related. The PC said this number has fluctuated over the years but there is no ‘discernable increasing or decreasing trend’. 

However, the PC pointed out that disability discrimination complaints were relatively low compared to the amount of people with disabilities.

Most of the complaints related to physical disability or work injuries, with those concerning discrimination at over unlawful termination in greater numbers than those concerning recruitment. ‘This aligns with the concerns many inquiry participants expressed about the difficulty in proving discrimination at the hiring stage,’ the report said.

‘They argued that discrimination occurring at that stage is relatively easy to conceal and that indirect discrimination is an issue in the way in which jobs are designed and advertised.’

Submissions provided examples of real-life experiences with discrimination:

‘… for me this has meant well over 200 job interviews I did not succeed at in spite of qualifications in excess of those required, as the interviewers had the concept of my disability in the front of their mind, allowing their second-guessing and pre-judging of me as valid assessment protocol.’

Another submission relayed the experience concerning different levels of management suggesting that the person with the disability should go on the disability support pension and not worry about getting a job.

The Mental Health Coordinating Council said: ‘up to 90 per cent of [member organisations’] clients do not disclose their history of mental illness to a prospective employer as they have learned from past experience that if they do, they will not get the job.’

The National Council for Intellectual Disabilities described employment discrimination as a ‘running sore’.

Submissions also highlighted the following aspects as of the DDA as limiting:

  • discrimination is difficult to prove;

  • those who complain are classified as troublemakers;

  • successful complainants did not always get their jobs back;

  • there are no employment standards;

  • it is inconsistent with OHS laws;

  • many barriers were attitudinal, not physical, so attempts to create accessible physical environments had little effect.

Some submissions also highlighted influences that have arisen since the DDA’s introduction that reduce available job opportunities for the disabled.

They include, the visually impaired finding it harder to find work due to the expansion of the retail sector, increased visual emphasis in new jobs, less entry level jobs, increased need for multi-skilling, an increased small business sector, a reduced public sector and the growing use of recruitment agencies. The mental health Coordinating Council of Australia also cited the increasing need for a drivers licence.

The PC suggested that age and disability discrimination may coexist in older age groups.


People with disabilities are overrepresented in some of the lowest income quintiles and are clustered at opposite ends of the occupational spectrum, according to the PC report.

Overall, the figures show disabled women earn 7% less than their able-bodied counterparts, while the difference between disabled and able-bodied men is 6%.

The PC also found a small difference in the hourly rates between similar disabled and able-bodied people – 3% for women and 1.7% for men.

The PC put the small difference down to IR mechanisms providing a level of wage protection, with most DDA’s problems associated with finding and keeping employment. However, it also noted that the small difference might underestimate the role disability plays in reducing the wages of the disabled.

Education was also partly to blame for the wages gap, according to the PC. This suggested that problems not just in the employment sector but problems in accessing the education sector also impact on earning capacity.

For a copy of the full report go to the PC website.


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