Employers can play significant role in improving access to Decent Work for People with Disabilities

Employers in Asia and the Pacific can play a leading role in developing initiatives to improve access to employment and vocational training for people with disabilities, but discriminatory legislation must be removed from statute books.

Press release | BANGKOK | 17 January 2003

BANGKOK (ILO News) – Employers in Asia and the Pacific can play a leading role in developing initiatives to improve access to employment and vocational training for people with disabilities.

"While government can be a driving force, we believe the private sector should take steps to improving the situation," said Anver Dole from the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon. "It is the private sector that is the engine of growth, so we believe that employers should help improve the employment situation for people with disabilities."

Dole, whose company employs 30 disabled people, 11 of whom are blind or partially sighted, praised the qualities they brought to the company. He added that disabled people were ultimately more productive than many of their co-workers in his experience, highlighting the economic and business case for employing them.

Dole was speaking on the sidelines of an ILO/Japan Technical Consultation on Vocational Training and Employment of People with Disabilities held at the United Nations’ Conference Centre (UNCC) in Bangkok this week. A follow-up ILO/Ireland Aid Project Consultation on Friday examined the impact of legislation on the employment of people with disabilities.

Siriwan Romchatthong, executive director of the Employers Confederation of Thailand (ECOT), said that while there is meaningful legislation in place in Thailand, enforcement is severely lacking. This meant that employers carrying out good practices did not enjoy significant reward, as errant enterprises would not face prosecution.

Participants, inspired by the dialogue generated during the consultation, made firm commitments to arranging national dialogues involving government, employers’ groups, trade unions, disabled people’s organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in their own countries.

During the ILO/Ireland Aid meeting on Friday, participants discovered that while governments are doing more to develop legislation aimed at promoting greater opportunities for disabled people, discriminatory legislation, often decades old, still remains on the statute books in many countries. It is essential that these laws are revisited and removed if outdated and irrelevant.

Diwan C. Shankar, National Secretary of the Fiji Bank and Finance Sector Employees Union, said that general mass unemployment and political upheaval in his country had sidelined the issue of promoting employment for people with disabilities. However, Shankar had succeeded in persuading a major bank to make a real commitment to employing people with disabilities. He hopes to reach similar agreements with other banks and the public sector.

Hong Kong SAR provided some excellent examples of successful rehabilitation initiatives for people suffering with mental difficulties. A contract car-cleaning operation serving the police has proved to be particularly useful for both sides. While it provided employment opportunities for disabled people, it also helped the police force better understand the needs of the disabled community.

Graham McKinsley of New Zealand-based Inclusion International, said the meeting had kept in mind the needs of people with intellectual disabilities, a frequently marginalized group that also face challenges in securing Decent Work. McKinsley said that it would be useful for other pacific island states, such as Tonga and Tuvalu to participate in future meetings.

The ILO has long supported the rights of people with disabilities, and has been a strong advocate for the rights of disabled workers. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the ILO’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention (No. 159). Countries that ratify the Convention pledge to develop programmes and practices to implement a vocational rehabilitation policy based on equal opportunity and treatment for disabled persons, in consultation with representative organizations of employers, workers and people with disabilities. So far, six countries in this region - Australia, Japan, Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea – are among the 73 countries which have ratified Convention 159.