Disabled advocates want to change minimum wage rule
Calgary - Advocates for the disabled are hoping that controversy over the firing of a man with Down syndrome will draw attention to an exemption that allows employers to pay wages as low as $2.95 an hour.

Stephen Whiteside was fired by Chapters because his $36-a-week salary impacted the bottom line. He, and a man with cerebral palsy who was also let go, were working for $3 an hour.

After a public outcry, Chapters' head office apologized and hired them back - at minimum wage, which is $5.90 an hour. An Indigo/Chapters spokeswoman said it had been a mistake.

The province has a minimum wage exemption that allows employers to pay people with disabilities less than the required salary, as low as $2.95 an hour.

Odette Danzer, with the Developmental Disabilities Resource Centre of Calgary, says the policy is discriminatory.

"We support well over 200 clients (and) we have 10 people making less than minimum wage. We've been working to change that," Danzer said. "You apply to have a person who you believe cannot contribute the same as you or I can. And therefore they shouldn't be paid the same, which really is discriminatory.

"Especially in Stephen's case, because he was doing the same work as other staff at Chapters and yet he was being paid less."

Chris Chodan, spokesman for Alberta Human Resources and Employment, says the exemption is not up for review, adding that it gives employers an incentive to hire people who would otherwise have difficulty finding a job.

"If this person is willing to work and they can be put to work and the employer can only do it if it's at a reduced rate, then we'll give the permit," Chodan said.

Chapters on Macleod Trail, which employed Whiteside, never applied for the exemption, although the province would likely have granted it, Chadon said.

Whiteside's mother says she approved the lower salary for her son so he could work.

From April 24, 2003: Chapters re-hires 'costly' employee

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