A Novel Approach to Employment of People with Disability?

As the Federal Government calls for submissions on how to increase employment opportunities for people with disability, systemic advocate for inclusive practices, Tricia Malowney shout out to Governments at all levels to lead by example - ‘employ us!’

OPINION: Australia ranks 21st out of 29 OECD countries in employment participation rates for those with a disability[1]. Now there’s a headline you won’t see in the media – we also come 27th out of 27 OECD countries in the relative poverty of people with disabilities.

We all know it’s a problem, we all know what the barriers are, but, here we go again, another inquiry into how best employ people with disabilities, what are the barriers, what should we do, why don’t people with disabilities get jobs, how can we make them work ready, how can we, how should we ......enough already ... we must acknowledge that Australians with disabilities have the right to work, are able to access work, and are paid award wages.

Let’s start with me getting something off my chest. There was a great cover story by Sue White in the MyCareer Section of Saturday’s Age entitled Fine service down to a tea[2]. This is a positive story about the employment of an Australian with a disability, and I say well done to the employer, David Nobay, who has recognised the benefits to his staff and his organisation, as well as the obvious benefits to Lloyd Fernandez, the staff member concerned. But what it assumes is that Australians with disabilities are not work ready, or that all Australians with disabilities have a cognitive impairment, or that you have to use a disability employment agency.

So, to try to solve the problem (again) Federal Minister Bill Shorten has called for another round of submissions to try and understand why Australians with disabilities aren’t employed – well there are a number of reasons, and they have been outlined ad nauseum in all the reports that are obviously gathering dust all over the country.

So here is a commentary on a few of the most recent reports, and their outcomes and where you can find them, if you want to see what the problem is, and what the solutions are.

The Barriers
The HREOC national inquiry into work and disability commenced in March 2005, with the final report released in November 2011[3]. Workability 1: Barriers, the interim HREOC report states that the major issues are:

  1. Information - an absence of easily accessible and comprehensive information and advice that assists in decision making processes and responds to ongoing needs
  2. Cost - concern about costs of participation for people with disability and possible costs borne by employers when employing a person with disability
  3. Risk - concern about any possible financial and personal impact on people with disability and their employers, especially if a job does not work out.

The Thematic Study released by United Nations in December 2012 found that the barriers included negative attitudes or opinions, deeply rooted stigma and stereotypes and lack of interest of governments, employers and the general population. Lack of access to education and training in skills relevant to the labour market ...[4] They also add that there are physical, attitudinal, information-, communication- or transport-related – barriers) that prevent persons with disabilities from seeking, obtaining and maintaining work[5]

Meanwhile the ACCI report suggests that Employers perceive additional and unknown costs .. identifying risks is more difficult (including) ... the direct and indirect costs of supporting PWD .. (and that) … employing PWD may inadvertently open them to a possibility of litigation …[6]

So there is nothing new there.

Benefits of employing Australians with disabilities.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Western Australia has come up with the following list (although I’m not sure about number 8 – does it mean they think that staff won’t grizzle as much because they are better than the employee with a disability? hmm)

8 Good Reasons to Employ People with Disabilities
1. Independent studies show that people with disability generally have a very positive work attitude and work ethos.
2. Hiring an employee with disability can lead to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, increased morale, a more positive organisational culture and reduced workers’ compensation.
3. The costs of recruiting can be reduced as generally there is lower turnover of employees with disability.
4. The number of OHS incidents for an employee with disability is six times lower than that of an average employee and the number of worker’s compensation incidents is four times lower than that of an average employee.
5. Employees with disability have less sick days compared to an average employee. The accrued cost of sickness absence in employees with disability was less than half of the cost for an average employee ($408 vs. $881).
6. Employees with disability generally have very good problem-solving skills as they have been challenged to find creative ways to perform tasks others may take for granted.
7. Hiring people with disability contributes to the organisation’s overall diversity. It enhances the company’s image among its staff, customers and community, adding positive benefits to the employer brand.
8. There will be benefits to existing staff who find working with people with disability rewarding.[7]

Solutions
I love this recommendation from the United Nations, and I have broken it into dot points so you can see the solutions more easily, and have provided my own commentary:
Chapter 67
Submissions to this study highlighted a wide range of efforts undertaken by States parties to promote employment of persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, such efforts often focus on creating jobs or training opportunities in separate settings and fail to respect the principle of inclusion provided for in the Convention.
Wow – finally an acknowledgement that people with disabilities should not be hidden away or segregated from society – we have equal skills, we should be given equal work.

It is imperative that States parties move away from sheltered employment schemes and promote equal access for persons with disabilities in the open labour market.
Again, wow. Let’s stop this nonsense of sheltered workshops and disability awards – let’s try something novel - pay award wages for work that is undertaken by people with disabilities and stop exploiting people. I know of instances where people on disability awards are placed on new duties the day before an assessor attends.

... States parties have an obligation to raise awareness among employers of their duty to employ persons with disabilities;
How about this for an option – employ people with disabilities to undertake the task of raising awareness – and pay them. There are lots of us out there who have the skills and ability to do it. Why is it always people without a disability who are promoting the employment of people with disabilities?

...employers in both the public and private sectors must proactively seek to create a working environment that welcomes persons with disabilities as employees. [8]
Again, employ people with disabilities to do cultural awareness training – retrain organisations in the same way it has been done for employment of women, indigenous people and Cald Australians.

The HREOC report into Disability and Employment [9]

Developing a whole-of-government approach to ensuring appropriate financial and practical support to people with disability, including a streamlined system to provide adequate:

  • income support;
  • transport, equipment and health care subsidies and concessions;
  • workplace supports and modifications; and
  • personal care in the home and workplace

Hopefully, the introduction of the NDIS will assist with some of this, but we have a long way to go until we get accessible transport. I know everyone complains when you can’t get a taxi within the hour on new years eve, but for us it is not uncommon to wait 4 hours. And as for trains – I have been refused access to a train told that they give priority to those who work – hmm I catch train in peak hour for the thrill of it?

· improving the effectiveness of government-funded employment service delivery to people with disability and employers (including recruitment assistance and access to supports on an as-needed basis);
Well until government funded employment services are required to employ Australians with disabilities themselves, I don’t see anything changing soon.

· improving transition-to-work schemes for people with disability in secondary, tertiary and vocational education and training institutions;
Can I just add, that many of us are already work ready – we don’t need more transition to work schemes – we need employment

· ensuring better relationships between private sector employers and government-funded information, recruitment and employment support services;
Again, this will never improve until there is a requirement to employ people with disabilities to deliver the information, recruitment and employment support services. Nothing about us without us – in our dreams.

· increasing recruitment and retention of people with disability in the public sector (at the Commonwealth, State, Territory and local government levels);
Oh yes, this is one I am longing to see implemented. Look at the abysmal employment rates by Commonwealth, State, Territory and Local Governments. And, of course, with everyone cutting jobs, who do you think will be the first to go? People with disabilities. Who is monitoring this? Who is keeping score in the first place? How can you expect the private sector to employ us when the public sector doesn’t lead by example?
and

· developing a benchmarking, monitoring and reporting system to ensure accountability and ongoing improvement to the incentives, supports and services available to people with disability and employers.

Let’s go one step further – let’s implement a traffic light system – you know green for good, amber for getting there and red for absolutely awful. And let’s publish it, like we do for employment of women.

Can I add another solution of my own that hasn’t been included, and that is to have it written into every contract for every building program, or every procurement agreement or every consultant etc that they must provide a statement which outlines:

a. the number of employees with disabilities,

b. their action plan for employing people with disabilities

c. how they support their employees with disabilities

Radical stuff isn’t it. Well, the time has come for us to stop this nonsense of continually having me spend my summer making submissions to enquiries when the research has already been done, the causes are out there, the barriers are obvious to everyone, the solutions are there, what we now need is the political will. Labor, Liberal, Greens, National, Independents – hell, I’ll even include Bob Katter’s party – we need all of you to make a commitment – the economic outcome of Australia depends on it.

Oh, and while I’m at it, can politicians please read the Productivity Commission’s report into long term disability before they start pontification on subjects about which they know nothing, and by the way, let’s just have a levy for the National Disability Insurance Scheme; I’m willing to give up three coffees a week – are you? 

-------------
[1] Price Waterhouse Cooper. November 2011, Disability expectations Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia. P3
[2] The Age, MyCareer, Sue White, Fine service down to a tea, January 26 2013, Page 5
[3] http://www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/employment_inquiry/final..., Workability I: Barriers
[4] Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights* December 2012 Thematic study on the work and employment of persons with disabilities, page 4
[5] Ibid page 8
[6] ACCI ibid page 2
[7] Chamber of Commerce and Industry Western Australia Employ Outside the Box People with disability The rewards of a diverse workforce A quick guide for WA employers
[8] UN Ibid, page 17
[9] http://www.humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/employment_inquiry/final...
Workability II Solutions, 2011

Submissions close on February 15, 2013. Go to http://deewr.gov.au/increasing-employment-opportunities-people-disability

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Comments

Great article!

Great article, Tricia!

I'm sure the term "Groundhog Day" was coined to describe the feeling many of us have about disability reform generally and employment for people with disability. Like many other people, I've been contributing to discussion about "what we need to do to increase employment for people with disability" for more years than I care to remember. And, yes, having been part of this discussion for so long I feel very much like you – let's cut the crap and get on with it.

You've done a great job at summarising all we've known for decades. I might go one step further with a three-step plan: 1) encourage and support employers who want to employ people with disability; 2) force those who don't (give the DDA some teeth!); 3) remove the barriers that make it so damn hard for people with disabilities to come to the table. We know in detail how to do every one of these things. This is not rocket science, it just needs some genuine effort.

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