Increasing work opportunities for people with disabilities

Efforts by the Government to enforce the 1969 law on the employment of persons with disabilities have been met with criticism by some, arguing that the measures are demeaning to persons with disabilities and go against the interests of business.

The law, introduced in 1969 had established that firms employing more than 20 employees had to employ 2% of their workforce from amongst persons registered as disabled. In practice, this means that some 3,000 firms should have at least 1 disabled person working for them. With the new amendments, companies who do not abide by this measure will be required to make an annual contribution of €2,400 for every person with disabilities that should be in their employment, to a maximum of €10,000 per company.

A recent reply given by Minister Clyde Caruana to a parliamentary question by Labour Whip, Glenn Bedingfield, indicates that since 2013 there has been an increase of 2,328 disabled people in employment. This means that the amount of those employed at the end of last March was almost two and a half times the amount at the end of 2012. The rate of increase in employment among those with disabilities was, in percentage terms, three times that in the rest of the population. On average, every working day under a Labour administration, one more disabled person has found a job. In contrast, pre-2013, it took an average of one working week for an additional disabled person to find employment.

By the end of April 2021 there were 259 disabled persons registering for a job. This figure was higher than the 237 who were registering for work before the start of COVID-19. Yet, in the last month preceding the change of Government in 2013, there had been 563 persons with disabilities registering for work.

By the end of April 2021 there were 259 disabled persons registering for a job.

The need to do more

Given this progress, one would be tempted to argue that there is little more to be done. But this is not the case.

Although great progress has been made, Eurostat data indicate that while only 4% of people aged between 16 and 60 who do not have any disability live in underemployed households, the share rises to 15% when it comes to people with disabilities. When looking at the non-disabled Maltese population, the proportion at risk of poverty or social exclusion is lower than that in the EU (17% vs 18%), but when comparing people with disabilities, one finds that in Malta the proportion in a vulnerable situation is higher (34% vs 28%). A Maltese person with disabilities is twice more likely to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion than a non-disabled Maltese, while the average disabled person in the EU is 1.5 times more likely to be in a vulnerable situation.

In fact, a recent report issued by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability on the current employment situation of people with disability confirms that there remain considerable challenges.  More than half of the interviewed employers said that they never offered a job to a person with disability. Nearly three fifths have no employees with disabilities who progressed in terms of their career.

The survey finds that while fewer than two thirds of employers are in line with the legislative requirement, less than a quarter pay the necessary contribution. Thus, around a third of those who are supposed to pay a contribution or hire more disabled people, choose not to do so. Most of them claim that they employ disabled persons, but these are not registered as such with Jobsplus. Finally, the survey confirms that most disabled employees have not been trained. As a result, the average wage of these people is staying relatively low.

It is in this context that the Government is strengthening the law to give those with disabilities better access to the labour market. In addition to enforcement, Government wants to build a fund to be used for projects to improve the skills of both those persons with disabilities that are working and on activation programmes for those who wish to work but have not been given an opportunity so far.

Data since 2013 show that good progress has been made, but a change in culture is still needed to further strengthen inclusion. However, given the complete transformation our country has achieved in terms of boosting overall employment rates, it should be possible to replicate this success and make a real difference where it counts most.

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