As the gap between the participation of people with and without disabilities in the workforce is widening, there is an urgent need for the government to make a move in providing fair employment opportunities for those with disabilities – as they also have the rights to economic security and to a decent level of living.
What’s more, with the pandemic coming into our lives and making the job market more competitive than ever, the vulnerabilities and barriers faced by people with disabilities, in terms of employment prospects, are only growing and worsening.
According to the Department of Social Welfare (JKM), there are 488,948 registered Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) as of October 2018, which translates to 1.53 percent of Malaysia’s population.
In terms of employment, Mary Chen, President of the Challenges Foundation, told the Star the number of people with disabilities working in 2018 was at an extreme low of 0.003 percent in the public sector and 0.001 percent in the private sector.
Although the government has implemented a 1 percent policy for hiring PWDs in the public sectors to ensure inclusivity for them and encourage all government agencies to provide employment opportunities to PWDs, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM), however, has reported that as of June last year, this policy has yet to gain traction from the public.
Well, according to experts, employers are hesitant to recruit PWDs because they fear higher health care costs, the PWDs are not seen as the talent pool of skilled workers, the need to provide appropriate accommodation that can be costly, and the perceived need to deal with adverse reactions from customers, colleagues and subordinates who may feel awkward for not knowing how to communicate with PWDs.
While education does help break down the barriers, working graduates with disabilities are mostly underemployed, working part-time or on contract and are less likely to hold managerial positions.
And even if they land a permanent job, they receive lower salaries than the non-disabled workers (even when both have the same level of qualifications and job scope).
This should not be the case as workers with disabilities deserve to be paid the same salary for doing the same work, as stated under Section 29 (2) of Persons with Disabilities Act 2008.
In one interview session, Cheras lad Ruvindiran Mohan, 30, who is visually impaired, told The Star that although he has a first-class degree in Social Work from Universiti Sains Malaysia, he has yet to secure a suitable job after attending over 30 interviews, including those in the public sector.
Although this is only based on one experience, indeed it is not fair, as disabled people should also be seen as skilled workers; and should be accepted as part of the workforce who could contribute to the community and development of the country.
Evidence has shown that staff with disabilities tend to take fewer days off, less sick leave and stay longer in jobs – and surprisingly, they can build strong relationships with customers, boost workplace morale and enhance teamwork.
Thus, what can be done to ensure this group of people get equal chances as the non-disabled people since the disabled people are also just like the others, they need jobs to earn a living?
First, as we face economic uncertainties, it is quite unfair to make it mandatory for businesses to hire disabled people – as businesses are also struggling.
Thus, to make it fair for both parties, the government might want to introduce a wage subsidy programme that provides a financial incentive for employers who hire PWDs.
Perhaps, this wage subsidy could be paid to the employers for 12 months of the PWD’s employment provided after the subsidy period has expired, the employers provide them with a sustainable and permanent position with a good salary.
For the salary, the government could also form an organisation that provides free productivity assessments for the PWD employees – to help employers determine a fair salary for them based on their productivity so that no discrimination can occur.
Next, as the consumers today are starting to embrace online shopping, now is the best time than ever to encourage disabled people to venture into online business – as a means to achieve their economic self-sufficiency.
To achieve this, the government is crucially needed to provide them with financial aids, be it in grants or loans – to help start their online business.
Besides, online business coaching programmes that could cater to PWDs’ needs in starting online business such as online business plan creation and business resources, should also be provided to those who are interested.
Given that the internet is a perfect marketing platform, the potentials for people with disabilities to seek this form of self-employment are feasible, with a high potential to success – just like the others.
However, it is also critical for all agencies related to online businesses like post offices to upgrade and make alterations to their physical features in order to accommodate the disabled people in doing their job – such as posting customer’s parcels.
Nurafifah Mohammad Suhaimi is Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.