Opening Address to the ILO Technical Consultation on Employment of People with Disabilities: A Human Rights Approach

by Ms Lin Lean Lim, Deputy Regional Director of ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Bangkok | 18 January 2006

On behalf of the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, I am very pleased to welcome you to this Technical Consultation on Employment of People with Disabilities: A Human Rights Approach. And to those of you who have come from outside Thailand , welcome to Bangkok .

This meeting represents yet another milestone in the ILO’s efforts to promote equality of opportunity for people with disabilities. The ILO began working on disability issues as far back as 1925. Back then, we encouraged the development of workers’ compensation and social-security based programmes for workers injured on the job. In 1983, the ILO Convention on Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons, No.159 was adopted. The Convention obliges governments to develop, in collaboration with employers, trade unions and disabled persons, a vocational rehabilitation policy which should include measures to encourage the employment of disabled persons in the open labour market and to provide vocational guidance and training, placement, employment and other related services to enable disabled persons to secure, retain and advance in employment. In 2002, the ILO adopted the Code of Practice for Managing Disability in the Workplace, which provides specific guidance to employers in hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.

We have moved from addressing disability issues from a social protection perspective to a human rights basis. The ILO instruments are based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equal treatment and non-discrimination. Special positive measures which aim at effective equality of opportunity and treatment between disabled workers and other workers are not regarded as discriminating against other workers. Such positive measures tend to be important, in particular to women with disabilities who very often face additional disadvantages due to the combination of gender and disability.

The ILO has long advocated that, given the opportunities and with the necessary supports, women and men with disabilities can lead fulfilling lives and make valuable contributions to their communities and societies. Legislation is a key factor in this. A conducive legal framework would help dismantle the barriers and inequities disabled persons face when they try to enter and thrive in the economic mainstream. On the other hand, inappropriate or inadequate legislation could prevent disabled people from full participation and from realizing their potential by establishing barriers to their training and employment, by not removing the obstacles disabled persons face or by creating situations in which people with disabilities remain dependent. Laws and regulations would also not be effective if they are only on the statute books and are not implemented. As part of the shift towards a rights-based approach, more and more countries have been seeking ILO assistance to review and revise their legislation and to promote effective implementation.

It is to promote effective formulation and implementation of legislation to support decent employment for peoples with disabilities that brings you here today. This Technical Consultation is part of the second phase of a project funded by the Government of Ireland to support national governments, social partners and disability advocates to improve the effectiveness of disability-related laws and policies, so that disabled women and men have access to more and better employment opportunities. The project, which will run up to 2007, will provide technical advice for the formulation or revision of laws and implementation strategies and offer training programmes to build the capacity of policy makers, decision-takers, drafters and implementers of laws and policies and disability advocates. The project will also develop media campaigns to send the message that people with disabilities not only have a right to decent work. They have valuable contributions to make and they help create a decent work environment in which diversity is valued, equality is a reality and ability is recognized.

The project will contribute to the objectives and activities of the Biwako Millennium Framework, which sets targets for the Second Asian and Pacific Decade for Persons with Disabilities. The project will also contribute to the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda which aims to promote opportunities for women and men, including those with disabilities, to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

Ladies and gentlemen, your presence here today from six countries in the region is proof of your concern for the rights of people with disabilities. I wish you a fruitful and constructive consultation and look forward to continued collaboration with you over the next two years. It is the ILO’s hope that the completed project will make a significant contribution to enabling people with disabilities to take their rightful place in the society, economy and workplace.