IHC garden workers out of a job

LAST DAY BLUES: Intellectually handicapped workers at the IHC owned Selmes Road Garden Centre in Marlborough are saddened at the loss of loved jobs after IHC said it did not want to be an employer.
WARWICK BLACKLER/Marlborough Express
LAST DAY BLUES: Intellectually handicapped workers at the IHC owned Selmes Road Garden Centre in Marlborough are saddened at the loss of loved jobs after IHC said it did not want to be an employer.

Only one of the dozen Selmes Road Garden Centre workers has a job after the centre closes its gates for the last time today.

"It's not good. It's hard on us. We wanted it to keep going," said Richard Ashton. 50, who has worked at the nursery for 12 years.

Tomorrow the amended Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act comes into place giving disabled people the right to the minimum wage.

IHC director of advocacy Philippa Sellens said in a statement IHC was celebrating the repeal of the act, which had allowed some people to work without annual leave or sick leave or with no right to join a union.

"For 47 years the law allowed people with disabilities to be discriminated against in the workplace," Ms Sellens said.

However Selmes Road Garden Centre manager Nick Freeth said: "At the end of the day, the majority of the disabled, especially the mentally disabled, have been disadvantaged by the repeal of the disability act."

IHC's service arm Idea Services announced in August it would sell the garden centre as it did not want to be an employer.

This was met with anger and concern by workers, their caregivers and many in the wider community.

A Marlborough IHC founder Mick Murphy was outraged by a memo people affected by the new law received from Idea services manager Martin Anderson suggesting employees could become self employed.

"Staff will support you in this where needed, but the bulk of the work would need to be done by you," the memo read.

Mr Murphy said: "My intellectually disabled daughter, who cannot read or write brought home this (memo)."

Like many of the others at Blenheim's vocational bases she could not understand the content of it, he said.

The centre was bought by the IHC in 1988 with wide support from Marlborough businesses and service groups. It has provided an educational work option for people with an intellectual disability.

Blenheim mother Elspeth Wells whose 37-year-old son Paul has Down's Syndrome and dyslexia, is critical of IDEA services' response to the new law. Her son did not work at the Selmes Rd centre, but she felt for those who were losing their job. She questioned Idea Services' timetable of events including music, marae visits, planning, craft activities and biking for those who couldn't find work.

"Why not give them the opportunity to prove they are good workers? They will relish the challenge that work can give them, rather than the social-type activities that are being suggested."

Under a Work and Income Workbridge scheme, employers receive subsidies if a disabled worker cannot match the work output of an able-bodied person.

Retired lawyer John Lundon offered IHC more than $1 million for the garden centre earlier this month. He had backing from businesses around Marlborough to form a charitable trust to permanently run a centre providing employment and training for disabled people if the offer was accepted.

IHC chief executive Ralph Jones turned it down.

Many inquiries from prospective purchasers had been received so selling it by tender would ensure a fair sale process, he said.

Tenders close on December 14.

"It's advertised as a going concern," Mr Lundon said. "But it's not a going concern. It's (going to be ) shut!"

The Marlborough Express