Delegates from APEC member economies gathered at a symposium in Hà Nội yesterday to seek ways to promote the employment of persons with disabilities in the region.
According to a study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) exploring the macroeconomic costs of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work, economic losses related to disability are large and measurable, ranging between 3-7 per cent of GDP.
Meanwhile, the UNESCAP Disability at a Glance 2015 Report showed that the region’s total workforce has already begun to decline in many parts of Asia and the Pacific due to population ageing. This trend, which will likely continue over the next decades, increases the need for governments to recognise the role that people with disabilities can play in boosting GDP growth by filling labour shortages.
However, according to the report, people with disabilities in the Asia-Pacific region are less likely to be employed, and when they are employed, they are more likely to be engaged in vulnerable forms of employment.
Teresa Cannady, of the US-APEC Technical Assistance to Advance Regional Integration (US-ATAATI), told participants that economies could increase their GDP by 1-7 per cent if persons with disabilities were paid on an equal basis.
Participants pointed out a range of employment-related barriers facing persons with disabilities, such as incomplete legal protections and enforcement, inaccessible and segregated training and education systems, poor access to professional networks, stigma and biases, inaccessible transportation and inaccessible workplaces and a lack of support to assist injured and ill workers to return to work.
Talking with Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reporters on the sidelines of the symposium, delegates revealed that many APEC members already have extensive legal and policy frameworks that support the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.
Jenjeera Boonsombat, a disabled delegate from Thailand, said her country has policies to encourage persons with disabilities to work for private companies and state agencies.
Thailand’s Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act requires the employment of 1 per cent of disabled persons by all public and private sector employers with more than 100 employees. Private sector firms who fail to meet this requirement must pay into the Fund for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. Public agencies failing to meet the quote are required to provide concessions or public spaces for persons with disabilities to sell products.
Philippine law requires that government agencies and government-owned corporations reserve 1 per cent of jobs for persons with disabilities. The law also recommends that private corporations with more than 100 employees meet the same quota.
In the Republic of Korea, a business with 50 or more employees is subject to quotas for persons with disabilities: 3 per cent for government, 2.3 to 3 per cent for public organisations, and 2.3 per cent for private companies.
Agus Diono, a delegate from Indonesia, said the symposium did not mention charity activities for persons with disabilities but discussed how to ensure equal rights for them, including rights to education, protection and employment.
Participants held that it is necessary to provide better legal protection for persons with disabilities, increase awareness-raising to overcome stereotypes, myths, and prejudices about them in the workplace.
They also stressed the need to improve inclusive education systems for children with disabilities in anticipation of their future workplace needs, provide better job placement services, effectively communicate the availability of those services to persons with disabilities, ensure that they are paid the same wages as their peers without disabilities and increase funding for people with disabilities to start their own business.
The participants also recommended making transportation accessible and affordable for persons with disabilities and increasing public awareness activities to address cultural barriers and attitudes about persons with disabilities.
Hosted by the Human Resources Development Working Group (HRDWG) in collaboration with APEC Group of Friends on Disability Issues (GoFD), the symposium formed part of the second APEC Senior Officials Meeting (SOM 2) and related meetings. – VNS