AFTER working the same job for 11 years, Nathan Watego’s pay was cut by 40 per cent “literally overnight” for no other reason than him having a disability.
AFTER working the same job for 11 years, Nathan Watego’s pay was cut by 40 per cent “literally overnight” for no other reason than him having a disability.

Nathan gets $11,000 wage cut because of disability

AFTER working the same job for 11 years, Nathan Watego's pay was cut by 40 per cent "literally overnight" for no other reason than him having a disability - the most shocking part is the wage cut is legal.

His only choice is to "cop it on the chin or quit".

Nathan works as a trolley collector at a Rockhampton supermarket - when the business was sold to new owners in 2017, he was automatically put onto the supported wage system.

The government system allows employers to pay a productivity-based wage, which requires employees with disabilities to complete a number of tasks before their pay rate is confirmed.

While Nathan competently completed the job without supervision for more than a decade, when he was assessed by the system his productivity was deemed as 60 per cent and his wage was changed accordingly.

The assessment caused Nathan's hourly rate to decrease from $21.12 an hour to $12.61 - a loss of $212 a week and $11,000 a year.

His dad, Sydney Watego, said the system was simply unfair and threatened Nathan's independence.

"He was devastated - he nearly had to move home," Sydney said.

Nathan independently lives in an apartment close by to his parents but when his pay was cut his weekly wage barely covered his rent.

Despite the pay cut, Nathan continued to work his five-hour shift from Monday to Friday.

He worked at 60 per cent of his former rate until June this year, when his advocates ensured he was assessed fairly.

Nathan, who cannot read or write, was previously assessed on tasks outside his job description, but in 2019 his advocate Rod Gardiner ensured assessments were more tailored to his role.

The move saw his assessment score increase to 77 per cent from 60 per cent but Nathan was only offered a 10 per cent pay rise.

After formal complaints and discussions, Nathan's wage has been increased to 75 per cent.

Mr Gardiner said no one should have to go through what Nathan has and if he didn't have a disability he wouldn't have to.

"One of the great ironies of this is how many non-disabled people work at 100 per cent efficiency every day anyway?" he said.

He said if people without disabilities weren't paid according to their productivity neither should those with disabilities.

"If non-disabled employees had their wages cut by 40 per cent overnight … you can rest assured the unions would take to the streets," he said.

"The economy would grind to a standstill as Australia's workforce of 13 million people would be out on strike."

There is no minimum wage for employees with disabilities on the supported wage system.

Mr Gardiner said the system was unfair to long-term employees with disabilities.

"I have a real issue that anyone as in Nathan's case, who has been doing the same job for 10 years can have their wage slashed overnight," he said.

Nathan's advocates have contacted state and federal politians for help but they feel lost in a system where people like Nathan cannot win.

Capricornia MP Michelle Landry said she was helping the Watego family.

"I have provided support to the Watego family during the course of their enquiries, ensuring they received personal contact within the department to assist them," Ms Landry said.

"I understand Mr Watego has made a submission the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and exploitation of people with a disability. I encourage this to assist the commission in making clear and relevant recommendations on improving the system."

State Government Minister for Disability Services and Seniors Coralee O'Rourke said the Federal Government was responsible for ensuring the Supported Wage System was fair.

"In the specific example provided, it's clearly an issue and something that needs to be looked at by the Federal Government," Ms O'Rourke said.

Mr Gardiner said the problem was systemic and people generally had little understanding.

He said some employers incorrectly thought the government subsidised the pay cut, but they didn't.

Mr Gardiner is preparing a submission for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

He recently won a regional award for his efforts at the Carers Queensland Central Queensland annual National Carers Week event but for him his goal is to get Nathan and those who face the same challenges fair rights at work.

Nathan's workplace was contacted but did not reply before deadline.

The workplace and Nathan are currently in a pay dispute, which has been referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman - when contacted the ombudsman's office was unable to comment.