Sheltered workshop programs: exploitation or opportunity?

Published On May 23, 2018 | By Christina Zisko | News

The programming at sheltered workshops, like ARC Industries in Guelph, are set to be closed in 2019.(

Christina Zisko

Sheltered workshop programs in Ontario are set to shut down by the end of 2018.

These programs, which allow people with intellectual disabilities to do irregular work for a few dollars an hour, are being phased out under the Liberals’ Equal Pay for Equal Work legislation.

The decision is divisive, with some considering the ban a step forward in terms of equality, while others say closing the workshops hurts workers.

“I’ve never been a fan of sheltered workshops,” said Bob Santos, executive director of LinkUp, an employment service for people with disabilities.

Under the equal pay legislation, workers who would normally be paid a few dollars an hour to wash dishes or fold towels would be entitled to the province-wide $14 minimum wage.

“My opinion has always been if there’s a job out there and somebody has to do it, regardless of disability or their ability, if they are able to do the job, because that’s what it’s all about, then they have to be paid,” Santos said.

Agencies that provide sheltered workshop programming, such as ARC Industries in Guelph, will no longer be able to offer the work due to the high cost of wages.

The prospect of these closures have upset some workers and their families, who hope that in the time leading up to the provincial election, politicians will reconsider the issue.

“Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals didn’t do their homework when it came to this bill,” a PC spokesperson told Humber News.

“We are now seeing that these changes are hurting some of our most vulnerable.”

The program closures are part of an effort to promote equality for all Ontarians in the workforce, but it has yet to be seen how this will effect the workers who were formerly exempt from minimum wage.

“Everyone should have an equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to society,” said Janet Rothwell of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. “There is a vital connection between one’s employment and one’s quality of life, well-being and sense of dignity.”

The CHRC recognizes that the call for minimum wage for all workers can create financial challenges, Rothwell said.

“However, we are confident that in this spirit of innovation and inclusion, the people running these programs will find ways to continue to provide opportunities to persons with intellectual disabilities while paying them a fair and equal wage,” she said.

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