Most of the time, I'll count work as a bad rather than as a good. We shouldn't evaluate policies on whether they make or kill jobs, except where they are specifically labour-market policies. Green policy shouldn't be judged on its job-creation propensities but rather on whether it achieves environmental objectives most efficiently.
But I'll make a slight exception for sheltered workshops. Employers finding ways to provide employment to the mentally disabled provide a sense of self-worth that's more valuable than wages paid. Where wages reflect marginal revenue product, they'll often be very low. But that's not the point. The business, whether charitable or commercial, has to at least not make losses if it is to survive. Absent strong wage subsidies, whether from government or from civil society, paid wages will have to be low where marginal product is low.
And so changes to New Zealand minimum wage legislation extending minimum wage protection to those in sheltered workshops, and lobbied for by advocates for the disabled, did harm when they, in conjunction with policy shifts at IHC, led to the closure of sheltered workshops.
Meanwhile, in Manitoba, Bill Redekop reports on the success of Mountain Industries, a sheltered workshop in the village where I went to elementary school. Manitoba sheltered workshops are allowed to pay sub-minimum wages, though there's some pressure to eliminate those provisions. I don't know whether Mountain takes advantage of sub-minimum wage provisions or whether those provisions will be eliminated. But I do hope that Mountain remains able to provide valuable opportunities for their workers.
I have an incredibly hard time seeing what public purpose is served by requiring that severely disabled workers be paid the minimum wage; an alternative policy instead providing wage subsidies for those workers achieves any reasonable equity objective sought by minimum wages but spreads the burden equitably across the community.