Disability not a problem
Left: Maria Machado, a non-disabled worker, makes altar breads for use in churches
By Chris Lindsay
Tony Bartolo, aged 45, finds it hard to understand why many people curse at the prospect of getting up to go to work each day.
Tony loves his work, in fact “it’s better than staying home”, he says. And he intends to keep on at his job until he’s 65!
He is one of more than 100 people with varying disabilities who are happily and gainfully employed at the three sites of Ozanam Industries - in Stanmore, West Ryde and Coonamble.
The centres are not ‘sheltered workshops’. Ozanam Industries is a profession-ally run business making its way in the corporate world.
And, apart from turning a dollar, this special work of the St Vincent de Paul Society offers job satisfaction and fulfilment to people who under other circumstances would have to stay at home and rely on disability pensions.
Tony, like his workmates, earns a wage which contributes to his self-esteem as well as his wallet. It allows him a measure of independence and also allows him to indulge in a passion - books.
He’s saving to buy more books for Christmas.
“I like animal books, but I also like other kinds,” he says.
Tony lives at Earlwood and catches a bus to and from the Stanmore centre, where his job involves packaging lawnmower blades ... “putting washers and bolts on them and then putting them into cartons”.
It is important work for one of many Ozanam Industries clients, who include the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, 3M Australia, SC Johnson and Son, Fuji Xerox, Acer computers and the Children’s Medical Research Centre.
“Our clients come from everywhere,” says Rod Silber, business development manager based at West Ryde.
“We get calls from people who have seen us in the Yellow Pages, or have been told about us by others.
“We do lots of things, such as preparing annual reports, enveloping, managing data bases and filling promotions bags for the release of new products (Ozanam recently did this for 3M and Goodman Fielders).
“We just did a job for Ryde City Council who were promoting alternatives to plastic shopping bags as an environmental issue. We had to fill calico bags with letters from the council, little toys and other material to be handed out.
“We do jobs where the run is short or where there are no machines to do it. But we can do anything really and we can always handle more work.
“One of our jobs is to refurbish cash card imprinters for the eftpos machines given out to retailers by banks.
“Currently we are working on St Vincent’s Christmas cards; more than one million cards packaged five at a time into plastic bags and sent to Tasmania, WA, Queensland, NSW and New Zealand.”
Allyson Morrison, co-ordinator at Stanmore, says: “We are appealing to the Catholic business community. We want work, not charity. Our clients will find we are often more efficient and quicker.”
The Ryde and Stanmore plants work a 38-hour week, with some people employed full time and some part-time.
The employees also receive a disability support pension, but lose part of it according to how much money they earn at the plant.
The more productive they are, the more they earn at Ozanam and the less they receive in their pension.
Except for supervisors and managers, almost everyone working at Ozanam Industries has a disability of some kind, mainly intellectual.
Allyson says: “They generally come from within the community, or are referred by Centrelink or other service providers, or word of mouth. As well, parents or carers might know of us.”
Surprisingly, there are vacancies for workers at Stanmore and West Ryde.
David Degenhardt, Stanmore manager, says: “We could take extra workers; there are usually vacancies. We wouldn’t turn anyone away.”
Wages at the centres are not linked to an award, although Ozanam Industries recently had a wage assessment for its workers.
The next step is to pay award-based wages according to productivity.
The management is seeking more work to fund the pay rises and to hire more people for whom work would otherwise be a dream.
Rod Silber says: “The only reason for seeking new contracts is to pay people wages. It is the reason we are here.
“We give the people on-going training and support. Most have fairly high support needs, such as on-the-job training, managing behaviour and encouragement to maintain productivity.
“Some of the people here have worked in other facilities and others have come from schools. For many it is the only kind of job they have ever had.”
Allyson says: “This place is purely vocational.
“If people have other problems not related to work we make referrals if necessary.
“The structure of the work can be quite ingenious.
“Counting eight of one kind of object into a plastic bag, and then eight of another, can be a difficulty for some of the workers.
Dave says: “Once we had to put eight nuts and eight bolts into plastic bags.
“We set up boards with eight square holes and eight round holes.
“When the eight square holes each contained a nut, and the eight round ones each contained a bolt, the workers knew they had the right number and tipped them into the bag.”
The employees tend to do the work meticulously, so the quality of the final product is high.
One client, who previously used casual staff without disabilities for packaging work, switched to Ozanam because the product quality was greatly superior.
Many of the workers live at home; others are in boarding houses. All make their own way to work and back.
Dave says: “Most walk or catch public transport.
“They are made to stand on their own feet as much as possible.
“It is important they do that so they have interaction with the community.”
If you want to find out more or talk to Ozanam Industries about work, call Rod Silber on 9807 4066 or Dave Degenhardt on 9519 3044.