Chapter 2: How many different minimum wage rates should there be

2.7 Sub-minimum wages for workers with disabilities

People with disabilities make up an estimated one billion, or 15 per cent, of the world’s population. About 80 per cent are of working age. People with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities, face enormous attitudinal, physical and informational barriers to equal opportunities in the world of work. Compared to non-disabled persons, they experience higher rates of unemployment and economic inactivity and are at greater risk of insufficient social protection.

Equal remuneration for work of equal value

The principle of equality of opportunity and treatment for persons with disabilities and other workers is laid down in the ILO Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, 1983 (No. 159), and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Recommendation, 1983 (No. 168). Paragraph 10 of Recommendation No. 168 provides that measures should be taken to promote employment opportunities for persons with disabilities which conform to the employment and salary standards applicable to the workers generally.

Furthermore, the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides in Article 27 that States parties shall safeguard and promote the realization of the right of persons with disabilities to work. They shall take steps to protect the right of persons with disabilities to enjoy, on an equal basis with others, just and favourable conditions of work, including equal opportunities and equal remuneration for work of equal value.1

Minimum wages, employment quotas and wage subsidies

Countries around the world are thus adopting anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of persons with disabilities to work. However, these anti-discrimination provisions do not necessarily ensure that minimum wages are always the same.

In some countries, lower rates can be set for certain workers with disabilities. This is generally done with a view to promote the employment of workers with reduced productivity.
  • In New Zealand, for example, employers can apply to a Labour Inspector for an exemption permit if the worker and employer both agree that there is a good reason why a worker should be paid less than the minimum wage. Labour Inspectors will issue a minimum wage exemption only if they think it is reasonable and appropriate to do so and the disability really prevents workers from earning the minimum wage.
  • In the U.S., the law authorizes employers, after receiving a certificate from the Wage and Hour Division, to pay wages less than the Federal minimum wage to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed. The fact that a worker may have a disability is not in and of itself sufficient to warrant the payment of a subminimum wage if his or her productivity for the work is not reduced.
In other countries, lower minimum wages are considered a form of discrimination, and workers with disabilities are entitled to the same minimum wage.
  • In the U.K., for example, workers with disabilities have the right to the same national minimum wage.
  • In France, lower wages for a same or similar position are sanctioned as a form of discrimination, and workers with disabilities are entitled to the national minimum wage. Workers with a disability can, however, register the extent of their reduced productivity, giving the employer the right to obtain a wage subsidy from the State. Enterprises with more than 20 workers in France are obliged to have at least 6 per cent of workers with disabilities among their staff.      

1 Section adapted from the ILO General Survey 2014 on minimum wage systems, pp. 97–98