Minimum wage twist

2019-02-01 15:59

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A possibly unintended consequence of the minimum wage legislation is threatening to force a local NGO to stop providing occupational therapy to about 100 mentally challenged adults.

The initiative, at the Abercare Centre in Oribi, is run by the Association for the Physically Challenged.

It provides protective employment workshops catering for 45 adults who are taught various skills with the aim of becoming financially independent.

They get paid a monthly stipend of R200 through a Department of Welfare subsidy. It caters for people from Taylor’s Halt, Elandskop, Nqabeni, Maswazini, Sobantu, KwaCaluza, Eastwood and other areas.

The work done at the workshop includes breaking and cleaning wire hangers for recycling and folding laundry. The association runs two protective workshops in Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

But with the new national minimum wage of R20 per hour, which came into effect on January 1, the workshop is at a threat of closing because it cannot raise the stipend, leaving about 100 people sitting idle at home.

Concerned parents who spoke to The Witness on Thursday said they received a letter from the association on Wednesday, informing them of a possible closure. In the letter, the association said it cannot afford to increase the monthly stipend and if it continues to operate will be in contravention of the Labour Act. “It is therefore with deep regret that I have to inform you that with effect from January 31, 2019, the workshop will cease to operate and will close,” read the letter.

But Lesley Dietrich, provincial director of the Association for the Physically Challenged, said the decision has been put on hold, while they make a submission to the Labour Department.

“It cannot be right because no protective workshop belonging to a nonprofit organisation can even afford to pay one third of that, let alone the whole price.

“We only decided to close the workshop while I continue to fight. All the NPOs are now in a lot of trouble. We struggle every day to find funding to pay our expenditures. Every single day of our lives is a struggle.”

She said a Pietermaritzburg firm has volunteered to launch an application for the association with the Labour Department to relax the law for their association.

“Once the application is lodged, the department can’t force us to pay R20 an hour until there’s a resolution. It’s been a nightmare situation and I can’t believe that the government will let these people down,” she said.

Joan Mohamed, whose son Ruwaid has been attending the workshop for 10 years, said she was devastated at the implications for his future.

“I know he comes home with R200 a month but that doesn’t bother a mother who has a disabled child. The majority of those children are epileptic, and they have to be kept occupied. The workshop provides safety and security for them,” said Mohamed.

She said the workshop provided her son an opportunity to interact with his peers. “Working there gives them dignity. Increasing the minimum wage has now penalised the disabled,” she said.

Ruwaid told The Witness that the workshop had provided him with a healthy environment.

“To sit at home the whole day and watch TV brings on seizures and anxiety. I have made friends there and I was shocked and sad that the workshop may close down,” he told The Witness.

Another parent, Patricia Manuel, said her 39-year-old son had been attending the workshop for 15 years. “Just imagine what getting that letter did to him. He has become so independent. He looks forward to going to work and doing this work provided him with a sense of purpose and dignity.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  minimum wage

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