Working Life
Blind workers

Where’s the vision in this decision? ask blind workers


By Mark Phillips

Editor of Working Life

Thursday, 15 August 2013

BLIND workers employed by the charitable Vision Australia say they have become the latest victims of a corporate culture that puts profits before people.

Seventy-three blind and vision-impaired employees of Vision Australia Enterprises warehouses in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will be made redundant following a decision earlier this month to shut the business down because it was losing money.

Some workers have been employed there for decades, and will find it almost impossible to gain a job elsewhere. They often have other disabilities on top of being blind.

The workers are employed in assembly line jobs like packaging, labelling, assembling, logistics and distribution for companies that contract its services. Supported employment in the warehouses has allowed the workers to plan their futures.

But their union is warning that if the decision is not reversed, staff will not be able to afford their mortgages, pay their rent, provide for their children, or keep themselves functioning as independent members of their community. It will also close an avenue for employment for future generations of blind people.

Vision Australia has ‘lost direction’

Martin Stewart from the Blind Workers’ Union says Vision Australia, which with 50,000 clients is Australia’s largest provider of services to the blind, has lost its sense of direction by putting business interests ahead of the well-being of the workers. He said the enterprise has always made losses, but was never set up as a profit-making exercise. Instead, its mission was to provide manual employment for blind workers so they did not rely totally on benefits or welfare.

“It’s now being run by corporate people, rather than people with proper understanding [of the blind] – they’ve got dollar signs in their eyes. They’ve brought a corporate style of attitude where they don’t regard this as a core service, they regard it as a business that is losing money, and they began to call any losses debts, when in fact it’s charitable expenditure.

“Yes, it loses money, but it’s necessary expenditure if you regard that as part of your natural service as a charity.”

“This job makes me want to get up in the morning, because I know I have got something to do and somewhere to go.”

The workers at the Melbourne warehouse in the inner city suburb of Kensington include Gena Kacowicz (pictured above), who has worked for Vision Australia since 1985, when it was still known as the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. She said the workers and their union were determined to force Vision Australia to reverse its decision.

“This job makes me want to get up in the morning, because I know I have got something to do and somewhere to go,” she said.

“It’s just nice to think there’s a job there and I feel very angry about this, angry, disgusted and upset, because I don’t want to lose my job because I will never get another one. I want to fight to the bitter end.”

Simon Giddings, a fully-blind father of three young children (above, right), said that even though the wages were below the minimum for “open” employment, the money he earned from his job was “the difference between getting fed and not getting fed”.

He said he would also struggle to find other low-skilled work.

“The reality is that our more stringent health and safety laws have had the effect that cautious employers in the litigious society we have don’t employ blind people in manual labour any more.

“If you’re sighted, you’ve got road digging, cleaning, all other manual labour, but for blind people, there’s nothing else. Not everyone has computer skills, and most of the people here would not be suited to working in a call centre.”

More than a job

For many of the workers, their employment at Vision Australia Enterprises is much more than a job – it is a lifeline to the outside world.

Michael Doherty, 50 (above, centre), is totally deaf-blind and communicates by touch. If he loses his job, he will be almost completely socially isolated.

In a media release earlier this month, the Chief Executive Officer of Vision Australia Ron Hooton, said the decision to close Vision Australia Enterprises followed an internal review of the business, which has made substantial losses over a number of years. He described the decision as sad but unavoidable, and said the closure would take place over three months. Up to 12 staff may be redeployed.

The Blind Workers’ Union and United Voice Queensland are planning a series of public events to highlight their situation, beginning with a rally in Melbourne this Sunday. Beginning at Flinders Street Station at midday, it will march through the city to Federation Square.

They are also seeking 500 signatures for a petition to the House of Representatives.

 Save blind workers’ jobs

Add your name to the petition.


Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.




  1. Russell
    Friday, 16 August, 2013 at 12:50 pm · Reply

    This is so typical of our society today, unless there is a profit to be made no one is interested. Maybe the Commonwealth Bank could send some of its loose change their direction, doubt it though, pockets lined with fish hooks.

  2. Baz
    Friday, 13 September, 2013 at 3:56 pm · Reply

    as unfortunate as it is, if a company runs at a loss or has no profit, without funding or help available to keep the company afloat, it can not survive. i feel for the people who are about to lose their jobs, but if the company can’t afford to stay open, then it has no choice to close and wind itself up… business don’t start up just to employe people, they start up to make money and provide a service.

  3. Cassandra
    Sunday, 15 September, 2013 at 12:09 pm · Reply

    It is an indictment of our capitalist, profit driven society that this sort of thing is tolerated. Sadly you wont fond the Murdoch Press waging a campaign to fully fund this and other similar organisations from taxation on our super wealthy miners and banks.

    Abbott & Co would rather give them a 1.5% tax cut in the forlorn hope that ‘trickle down” of the extra profits will provide the resources!

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