A VISUALLY and intellectually impaired Stawell man has won a long-running disability discrimination trial and appeal to the High Court of Australia.
The case marks a significant win for Gordon Prior, 60, and the rights of people with disabilities.
Mr Prior took the Commonwealth of Australia to the Federal Court in 2011 in a landmark case that aimed to benefit up to 20,000 Australian workers with a disability.
Mr Prior was one of two applicants in the case that challenged the validity of the Commonwealth’s system of determining the wages of people with a disability, known as the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool.
The other applicant was Elizabeth Nojin of Coffs Habour, NSW, on behalf of her intellectually disabled adult son, Michael Nojin.
Mr Prior’s legal team argued that the competency section in the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool was fundamentally discriminatory and could keep wage rates for intellectually disabled people unreasonably low.
Mr Prior gave evidence that he had worked for just $2 an hour under the Business Services Wage Assessment Tool.
On December 21, 2012, the Federal Court of Australia ruled that the Commonwealth of Australia discriminated against Mr Prior and Mr Nojin in determining their wages.
The Commonwealth of Australia then appealed against the Federal Court’s decision and applied for special leave to appeal to the High Court.
The High Court dismissed the Commonwealth’s appeal.
Grampians Disability Advocacy Association chief executive Debbie Verdon said the case would now have a flow-on effect and benefit disabled people across Australia.
“What we expect to happen now is that people’s wages in disability employment will improve because the part of the assessment that was keeping their wages low will be removed,” she said.
“That has to have a positive effect for those working in Australian Disability Enterprises.
“Anyone who is employed under the supported employment system will see an improvement.”
Ms Verdon said the wage assessment tool had two components.
“One was a productivity component which measured how much work someone could do,” she said.
“The other was a competency component, which asked people to answer questions about their workplace.
“These questions were difficult for people with a disability to process and were questions that aren’t asked of anyone else who has a job.”
Ms Verdon said the main argument was about fairness and equality.
“We never argued about the productivity part of the assessment – we thought that was fair.
“But the competency part looked like it was always designed to make sure wages remained low.”
Ms Verdon said the case was an example of people with disabilities standing up for their rights.
“It was a David and Goliath situation that went to the highest court in the land to get a result,” she said.
“It is quite an amazing and empowering story.
“For some people, it will seem like the first time the thoughts and feelings of people with a disability have been listen to at such a high level. It’s no small thing to take on the Commonwealth of Australia.”
Mr Prior is a gardener at Stawell Intertwine Services.