People with Disability in the Open Workplace: Final Report of the National Inquiry into Employment and Disability
People with disability represent a significant proportion of Australia's working age population (16. 6%), yet they participate in the workforce at lower rates, they are less likely to be employed when they do attempt to participate, and they will earn less if they do get a job. This has been the case for a long time and the problem is not just ongoing, it seems to be getting worse.
The National Inquiry into Employment and Disability (the Inquiry) was launched on 4 March 2005 to address this important issue.
The Inquiry's interim report - WORKability I: Barriers - makes it abundantly clear that people with disability face higher barriers to participation and employment than many other groups in Australian society.
This final report - WORKability II: Solutions - focuses on how to address these barriers and ensure equality of opportunity for people with disability in the open workplace.
WORKability I: Barriers identified three sets of obstacles facing people with disability and their actual or potential employers:
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.
These obstacles were evident through all stages of the employment process: getting ready for the open workplace, recruitment and selection, and job retention.
Further, the absence of clear information appears to have exacerbated the other two barriers by making it extremely difficult to distinguish between perceived and real costs and risks. For example, employers cite an increased risk of workers compensation claims as a major barrier to employing people with disability, yet there is no evidence available to support this concern. Similarly, the cost of workplace accommodations is often mentioned as a significant concern despite evidence from the United States suggesting that most modifications cost under US
WORKability II: Solutions makes a series of recommendations to address the myriad of barriers identified in WORKability I: Barriers. These recommendations must be considered in a holistic manner. For example, there is little point in asking people with disability to participate in the open workplace if there are no jobs to go to, or the expenses of participation are higher than the wages earned, or there is inadequate access to the supports needed by employers and employees to ensure that the job can be done properly.
The primary responsibility for addressing the barriers for people with disability in the open workplace falls on government. It is for this reason that Commonwealth, State and Territory government services and programs are the subject of many of the recommendations discussed in this report. It is also the reason that WORKability II: Solutions recommends that the Commonwealth government lead the development of a National Disability Employment Strategy for Australia.
Commonwealth, State and Territory governments must work together to create a level playing field for people with disability in the open workplace. To increase participation and employment of people with disability, governments must provide the supports, services and incentives that ensure that people with disability have true equality of opportunity.
Governments must also provide leadership to the private sector, and the community at large, by improving public sector employment practices and developing clear information strategies which address concerns about the costs and risks associated with people with disability as employees in the open workplace.
However the private sector also has a role to play. Business peaks and individual corporations need to help government identify what needs to be done to lower the barriers to employing people with disability. And more employers are needed to pave the way and demonstrate the business case for hiring people with disability.
In addition, public and private recruitment services, public and private workplace support services, public and private vocational education and training institutions, community groups representing people with disability and people with disability themselves have a role in bringing about the conditions that ensure equality of opportunity for people with disability.
Designing a strategy to increase the participation and employment opportunities for people with disability is no small task. The process must be capable of addressing a wide range of issues in a coordinated manner. As set out in Recommendation 30, a National Disability Employment Strategy should focus on at least the following issues, as a matter of priority:
- 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;
- 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);
- improving transition-to-work schemes for people with disability in secondary, tertiary and vocational education and training institutions;
- ensuring better relationships between private sector employers and government-funded information, recruitment and employment support services;
- increasing recruitment and retention of people with disability in the public sector (at the Commonwealth, State, Territory and local government levels); 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.
In addition to a general recommendation about developing a National Disability Employment Strategy, the Inquiry has made 29 specific recommendations which address many of the issues listed above. Those recommendations provide guidance on how to improve the current support system and employment environment for people with disability.
Implementation of any one of those recommendations will be a positive step towards addressing the barriers facing people with disability and their actual or potential employers. However, they are unlikely to have any substantial impact if implemented in a piecemeal fashion.
It is only when the barriers for people with disability and employers are simultaneously addressed in a holistic manner that we can hope to enjoy real increases in the participation and employment of people with disability in the Australian workplace.
All parties in the employment process and all levels of government need to act cooperatively with each other to bring about a streamlined approach to increasing participation and employment rates of people with disability. The Inquiry therefore urges prompt implementation of the following 30 recommendations.