ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

274th Session
Geneva, March 1999

Committee on Employment and Social Policy



ILO policies and activities concerning vocational rehabilitation

1. At the 273rd Session (November 1998) of the Governing Body, the Committee on Employment and Social Policy was unable to examine the Office paper on this subject(1)  owing to lack of time.

2. The content of that paper stands on its own merit and does not need to be revised. Members are therefore referred to the paper and are asked to examine once more the salient issues presented. In its introduction, the paper states that the time is ripe to prepare the ground for an expansion of ILO activities into a comprehensive programme. Since its distribution there is even more evidence to support prompt action, as present developments demonstrate increasing global interest in disability and drug-related issues. What were then promising political trends have now rapidly become concrete commitments. This comes as no surprise, as human rights considerations and compelling social and economic arguments for taking action have converged and created a synergy. Some tangible examples of commitments and of how the ILO is taking steps to link to them are given below.

Recent ILO involvement at the global,
regional and national levels

3. In the agreement on social policy (Social Charter) of the Treaty of Amsterdam (October 1997), the European Union (EU) endorsed the principles of non-discrimination and of equal opportunities for people with disabilities in the labour market. Germany holds the presidency of the EU as of January 1999, and has declared its goal of achieving the integration into employment and work of people with disabilities by promoting equal social standards for them. The Government of Finland, which assumes the EU presidency for the second half of 1999, has already indicated that it will follow in the same direction.

4. At its plenary session on 15 December 1998, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the European Commission's evaluation of the third Community Action Programme to assist disabled people (Helios II). The resolution calls on the Commission to draw up a disability action plan which will reinforce the EU's New European Community Disability Strategy and will give support to national action plans on employment. There is general confidence that disability issues will be kept visibly at the forefront of EU social policy commitments. The ILO's noteworthy experience and cooperation on these issues is actively sought.

5. The landmark decisions of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Countering the World Drug Problem Together in June 1998 are receiving rapid follow-up. This is most evident in the formulation of national action-oriented strategies for the implementation of the General Assembly's Declaration on the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction. The emphasis on demand reduction has brought heightened interest in community mobilization, in which employers' and workers' organizations and enterprises are seen to have a central role. For this reason the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), in cooperation with the ILO and a group of European enterprises, has decided to meet in Sundsvall, Sweden in May 1999 to mobilize the private sector and promote business-community collaboration in reducing the drug problem.

6. In the United States, the creation in March 1998 of the Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities has given renewed impetus to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Task Force submitted its first comprehensive report to the President in December 1998. It includes a national public policy review and provides recommendations on action to be taken. Again, the Office is linking to this Task Force for a mutually beneficial exchange at both the policy and practical levels.

Technical cooperation and advisory services

7. ILO assistance is actively sought for technical advice and cooperation. Two ILO pilot projects concerning job creation for war-disabled individuals have been developed for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serbian Republic. These challenging projects, to be implemented under difficult circumstances and conditions, are very likely to commence in 1999. In keeping with the spirit of the Dayton Peace Accord (November 1995), measures will be taken to create unifying standards for shared training and capacity-building opportunities for both entities.

8. Several governments in Central and Eastern Europe are working with the ILO to align their national vocational rehabilitation policies with the standards of the European Union so as to meet the criteria for future membership. Steps were taken by the Government of Bulgaria in late 1998 to enlist assistance from the ILO in drafting its national rehabilitation policy.

9. A similar interest in collaboration has been demonstrated by five Central Asian countries which attended a seminar in October 1998 sponsored by four UN agencies cooperating on rehabilitation. As a result of this seminar, the Governments of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have sought ILO help in creating administrative and training infrastructure in order to improve the creation of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

10. In India, a large-scale five-year project is to be launched in 1999 for the nationwide replication of the workplace prevention and community-based drug rehabilitation pilot programmes established over the past four years by the ILO in collaboration with the Government and the social partners. The focus will be on enterprise-level prevention programmes, networking among enterprises and collaboration with community-based organizations. Other projects which are expected to commence in 1999 are a regional staff training project on workplace prevention and community rehabilitation for the Asia-Pacific region and a project for the southern African region. The first steps have also been taken to respond to requests for assistance from Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Mauritius, Mexico, Pakistan and Thailand.

New areas for future activity

11. In addition to the international and national developments listed above, other areas of activity are being explored. For example, with external financing, new research was initiated by the ILO in January 1999 in view of the heavy burden that mental disorders place on society and the workplace. According to the WHO, depression is the primary cause of disability worldwide. As such, its presence in the workplace has serious consequences not only for the individuals whose lives are affected, but also for enterprise productivity.

12. The tragedy caused by Hurricane Mitch in October-November 1998 in several countries of Central America, and the earthquake in Colombia in January 1999, are only recent examples of natural disasters, creating yet more reasons to bolster ILO commitment to disability issues. While such devastating disasters are inevitable, increase the number of persons with disabilities, and disproportionately worsen the living conditions of the existing disabled population, they show the imperative for action in rehabilitation training and employment programmes. The Organization needs to be prepared to alleviate the long-term consequences of such disasters.

13. Similarly, responding rapidly to the employment needs of persons with disabilities in countries emerging from armed conflict should be an important area of ILO concern and intervention. Creating opportunities for the training and employment of persons with disabilities can play a critical role in a country's quest for normality.

14. Never before have the two subprogrammes been more responsive and in tune with global trends and activities. They are palpable examples of the ILO's contribution in acting on the directives of the World Summit for Social Development. In broadening the range of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, the Office promotes their social and economic inclusion. Strengthening the programme's agenda will contribute to the achievement of the World Summit's overriding objectives.

Geneva, 16 February 1999.


1. GB.273/ESP/3.

Updated by VC. Approved by RH. Last update: 26 January 2000.