Government workers with developmental disabilities fight closure of their work program
Several dozen people with developmental disabilities are planning to protest on Parliament Hill if the government doesn't save the program that employs them. For nearly 4 decades they have worked sorting paper to be shredded but have learned for a second time that their program is being cut.
The program employs about 34 people with developmental disabilities, paying them minimum wage to sort government papers before they are destroyed.
Now their spirits are destroyed to learn the program that gives them independence will end in a year. These are emotional days for Gladys Whincup. For 38 years, she's been working with the National Archives Program but worries her job is coming to an end.
“I am worried,” she says as she tears up, “because we’ll have no job.” Gladys and the other 33 employees were first shredding government documents and when that was sourced out, then began sorting government paper, removing any metal material, diligent about the job they were doing and proud to be employed.
“It gives us opportunity,” says Tim Doherty, who has been working with the National Archives Program for 36 years.
But that opportunity they fear is ending. “I don't want to lose my job,” says employee Jean Stewart, “They are shutting us down.”
The employees had been paid an honorarium of $1.15 an hour but that was bumped up to the minimum wage a little over a year ago when provincial legislation mandated that. The organization working with these employees, Ottawa-Carleton Association of Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD), says the contract would cost the federal government between $400,000 and $500,000 a year.
“Currently there's an initiative underway to hire people with disabilities across fed government,” says David Ferguson, the Executive Director of OCAPDD, “and while we applaud that, we don’t understand the contradiction that this program is being closed and it employees, people with a disability, some of whom have been there for 38 years; that flies in face of the other initiative.”
The Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, Carla Qualtrough, said in a statement,
“We know that persons with disabilities continue to remain under-represented in Canada’s labour force. That’s why we’re taking action on many fronts to ensure all Canadians can fully participate and be included in society; this includes meaningful employment. Between the investments our government is making in accessibility and the tabling of the proposed Accessible Canada Act, we have done more to support persons with disabilities than any other government.”
This isn't the first time this program has been on the chopping block. The same thing happened 4 years ago during Stephen Harper’s reign. After an uproar, the then-Conservative government re-instated it.
The former Conservative Employment Minister, Pierre Poilievre, now the PC MP for Carleton said he reversed the decision of Library and Archives Canada in 2015 to shut down the program and questions why the same decision is being made today.
“I don't know what's behind the government’s decision to shut it down this time but I think it's an unwise decision,” he says, “It is costly for taxpayers and harmful for these very inspiring workers.”
Gladys and her fellow workers are gearing up for another fight if they need to.
“I think it’s a terrible thing to do to our program,” she says, “and I don’t know why they’re picking on our program all the time.”
The group is already planning a protest on Parliament Hill if their efforts to overturn this decision are unsuccessful.