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3rd Dec 2023

€211 a month: workers who love their job, but can't live from it

  • The 'disability employment gap' stands at 24 percent in the EU (Photo: Pexels)
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Around 320,000 people with disabilities "work" in Germany's sheltered workshops.

Although defining what these workshops are is not an easy task. The European Parliament itself asked the EU Commission to clarify the term in 2020.

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"There does not appear to be universal clarity as to what, in the context of EU law, the term 'sheltered workshop' means," noted Renew Europe MEP Engin Eroglu.

At EU level, there is only one legal definition, which describes this alternative employment model as "employment in a company where at least 30 percent of the workers are workers with disabilities".

It is also unclear whether these people are working and what their legal status is, says a report by the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD), which analyses the situation of sheltered workshops in the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain.

Technically, those who access this alternative model of employment are considered "unable to work" due to their level of disability, although in many cases they do productive work for most of the day.

So are they considered employees or not? In countries like Germany, no. In others, like Italy, only in some organisations, which means they are not entitled to the minimum wage for their services.

Nor do they have access to other basic labour rights, as their work is defined as having a "rehabilitative character".

In fact, what the workers receive in return for their hours in these workshops, which are more industrial than service (where they would be in contact with society) is called "remuneration" and not a wage.

In Germany, before the pandemic, the average remuneration (based on productivity) was €211 per month, which increases the dependence of these people on other state support.

Apart from this aspect of remuneration, and despite the fact that the work performed in these workshops can be monotonous or routine, the workers say they are satisfied and consider their work to be "meaningful", according to the EASPD study.

"That is not enough," Green MEP Katrin Langensiepen told EUobserver. "Conditions are bad, and we are not critical enough".

It's not just a matter of remuneration, according to the European Disability Forum's report. These settings apply lower salaries, show lower career development and promotion opportunities and lack of job stability.

Furthermore, the 'disability employment gap', the difference between the employment rates of people with and without disabilities, is 24 percent in the EU. In Ireland, it is almost 40 percent.

What can be done at EU level? According to the Green MEP, there should be more publicity about how these models work and more investment in social enterprises that employ these people with a decent wage and full social protection.

"We also call for more disabled people to be employed in the public sector and to be involved in decision-making processes," she added.

The latest EU strategy notes that systems are diverse, and vary across member states — but does not identify best and worst practices.

Later this year, the commission is expected to present its findings on the impact of these alternative models in ensuring quality employment for people with disabilities.

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