It is clear that over the years the representation of people with disabilities has remained flat, both in terms of the total workforce and in the various occupational levels. NIRESH SINGH, deputy director: Employment Equity Directorate at the National Department of Labour, explains.
Employment equity is one of the key items on the broader equality agenda of South Africa. Yet, statistics gained over the years from employers’ employment equity reports indicate that the representation of people with disabilities is low and has hovered around the one-percent mark of the total workforce. It is for this reason that the discussion must focus on what is required and what is to be done, rather than focusing merely on numbers and percentages.
Enabling legislation, such as the Employment Equity Act (EEA), was enacted in 1998 to address equality issues specifically in the work environment, while the Promotion of Equality and the Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 (PEPUDA) was enacted to address equality issues in broader society.
The main aim of the EEA is to promote equality and diversity in the workplace by eliminating unfair discrimination (i.e. prevention); and by implementing affirmative action measures (i.e. fairness) to ensure the equitable representation of all races, genders and people with disabilities. It is accepted not only in South Africa, but in the rest of the world as well, that people with disabilities are the most vulnerable group in terms of employment and income generation, which is a key contributing factor in the wellbeing of every person.
Many catchphrases and words – like “decent work”, “equal opportunity”, “equal pay for work of equal value”, “access”, “rights” and “mainstreaming” – are commonly used in writing and presentations. This generally leaves people with disabilities with expectations and hope, but very little scope of achieving anything in the real world.
All of these are process issues that should be addressed in the context of the ultimate goal, which is a society for all, where people with disabilities can lead a decent life. Addressing disability issues in the work environment with this goal in mind has the following advantages:
- It helps to understand the current situation and what is required to get there.
- It keeps strategies in focus, limiting unnecessary duplications and exclusions.
- Interventions are likely to address not only the issue relating to the representation of persons with disabilities in all occupational levels, but vocational rehabilitation, other forms of employment and reasonable accommodation, suitably qualified and skills development, the needs required by the various disabilities (e.g. non-visible and severe disabilities, education) and the like.
- Monitoring and evaluation will be much easier, as indicators to measure progress will be clear.
It’s important to note that understanding the goal and the means to achieve it is necessary even during negotiations and dispute resolution processes. With the amendments to the Act and the regulations coming into effect on August 1, 2014, the dispute resolution processes in the Act have now been made even more accessible, as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) is now able to conciliate on disputes and arbitrate on them in certain circumstances as well.
The CCMA may arbitrate on disputes instead of the Labour Court, adjudicating on them if it is a sexual harassment matter, if the person involved earns over or below the threshold outlined in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), and provided all parties agree to arbitration by the CCMA.
Vigilance is required at all times, both inside and outside the workplace, in order to ensure that the employer consults with workers – and that persons with disabilities are included in the process – conducts an analysis of its workforce and its environment, prepares and implements a plan, and submits a report to the Department of Labour.