Disability employment amid COVID-19

Rustim Ariefdien takes a look at how the global COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown has impacted disability employment

COVID-19 is having an adverse effect on our health, food security and economic wellbeing on a global scale, let alone in South Africa. The health implications are keeping us in lockdown and, of late, impacting on our food security as food supply lines become more and more compromised (consider the looting of food trucks).

From an economic standpoint, unemployment is increasing, and businesses are failing, especially small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Even big businesses are going into business rescue. In fact, it is estimated that unemployment could hit 50 percent. South Africans are losing their jobs or taking pay cuts.

At present, there are 76 608 persons with disabilities formally employed, which means that a substantial portion of them are at risk of losing their jobs.

Skills development is an area where training opportunities have been available for persons with disabilities. However, skills development levies have been suspended for four months and the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) are expecting to collect far less revenue for the foreseeable future. This will impact tremendously on opportunities for training of persons with disabilities.

It is difficult to get stats on the number of entrepreneurs with disabilities. To what extent would these entrepreneurs be impacted especially if they fall into the SME category?

Disability is an integral element on a business’s Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Scorecard. Many companies have taken advantage of the disability points on offer. To what extent is BBBEE going to play a role in the short to medium term?

With so many businesses being in distress, to what extent would persons with disabilities then loose out?

However, there are positives. Persons with disabilities are very resilient. Communities will be focusing on the issues of health and food security first. There will be a recovery and the economy will correct itself – a new beginning. Employers will start employing and disability should be fore of mind.

As a collective of persons with disabilities, we must ensure this narrative. The Employment Equity Amendment Bill will be put before parliament where companies would be forced to meet their Disability Employment Equity targets and more persons with disabilities will be employed.

Once the initial panic is over and we have some sort of economic recovery, then businesses will need to address their BBBEE statuses and disability will again be an option to get their points up. Once skills development funding becomes readily available again the disability targets of four percent should stand out prominently. The Tax Allowances of R120 000 on learnerships will remain a good incentive for companies to place learners with disabilities into their workforce.

So, we just need to hang in there. Survive the COVID-19storm and be ready for the opportunities as they present themselves. While in lockdown it is easy to get carried away with entertainment.

However, this period brings with it lots of available time to do self-learning or engage with a plethora of online learning courses. We need to see this period as a new beginning and be ready to play our role in society and contribute to the growth of this nation.


Rustim Ariefdien is a disability expert extraordinaire who assists businesses to “let the Ability of disAbility enAble their profitAbility” through BBBEE, skills development, employment equity and socio-economic development. His purpose is the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities in Africa. As a person with a disability himself, he has extensive experience in the development and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

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