What Are Sheltered Workshops & Why Are They Bad
Written by BCPF Advocacy Committee Members
July 12, 2021
Getting paid fairly for the work we do makes us feel valued. It makes us feel valued as an employee and a human being. The problem is that some people don’t have the same value in society and are not always treated equally. Most people agree that not paying people at least minimum wage is wrong. But people are being taken advantage of in Sheltered Workshops. People are making only $1.25 per hour and being told it is training. Training that never ends is not training! We want this practice to stop and we want to see people treated fairly.
Sheltered workshops are places where some people labeled with an intellectual or developmental disability work. These are places where they are usually segregated from other people and don’t get paid fairly for the work they do. A Sheltered Workshop is different than a day program because they have an employment focus. Some people think going into a Sheltered Workshop is a good idea but it doesn’t work out well for most people. And no one wants to be forced into a day program or a Sheltered Workshop against their will. All people want real work for real pay. And some people can’t work – we need to deal with this fact as a society.
Sheltered Workshops have different names like Employment Training Centre or Adult Service Centre or Long-term Training. But the name doesn’t matter when the principles are all the same. It is called ‘sheltered’ because people in these types of work programs are not working side-by-side with other people who are not labeled. A lot of people who participate in these programs feel separated – separated by the name of their employer, their pay level, even physically segregated sometimes. Sheltered from receiving equal pay and employee benefits. Sheltered from other people. Sheltered to avoid real inclusion and real change to the way people with disabilities are treated.
People working in a Sheltered Workshop may spend their days sorting screws for furniture factories. Or they could be putting together camping equipment for a store. Some people will spend their whole day sorting through recycling materials. Would you like to do this all day if you were getting paid less than minimum wage? People in this situation might be making only $1.25 per hour. Some people in Canada who are not part of Sheltered Workshops also have this job but they are getting paid at least minimum wage to do it. These are real jobs that local businesses need to get done, so they pay a Sheltered Workshop to do them, instead of paying people the full wages they deserve.
Instead of embracing inclusive hiring practices companies would rather exploit the system to save a small fraction of their profits. Organizations and service providers might need funding and will end up taking funds for these types of programs so they can pay the bills. Why is it fair that the people setting up the employment get paid a fair wage but the people working don’t? It is wrong to say that people with intellectual disabilities just need something to do all day so who cares how much they make. We deserve minimum wage. Every human being does. And minimum wage should be a living wage. It shouldn’t even be a discussion point that minimum wage would be less than a living wage. What is wrong here? No one should be expected to live in poverty because the system has not changed in decades – and that is what is currently happening right now.
When it comes to Sheltered Workshops, the work is real, but the wages are not. It’s not fair and it is time to stop these ableist practices in our society. Sheltered Workshops have been around for a long time and even though advocacy groups have been raising awareness of the damage they do for years and years, in 2016, around 40,000 labeled adults were working in sheltered workshops throughout Canada. That is 40,000 people who are segregated and do not get paid fairly for their work. People First believes that it is against their human rights to not pay all people a fair wage for their work.
In 2021 this is not acceptable to us. No one should still be working in a Sheltered Workshop. And it should not be acceptable to you. Sheltered Workshops need to be closed. We need to stop taking advantage of people with disabilities and treat them like human beings.
We invite you to find out more about this topic and what you can do to take action by booking BCPF Members for a presentation to your work or school group. Get in touch with us anytime by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
OUR CALL TO ACTION! Write a letter to your Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) in BC or your Canadian Member of Parliament (MP) about ending the practice of Sheltered Workshops. Locate your MLA here or your MP here. Email or mail them a letter to express your concerns.
Use THIS LETTER HERE if you want to. Be sure to edit what you want in the letter and remember to add your name and the date and your government official's name.