Businesses have a legal and moral obligation to hire people with disabilities. However, pro-disability policies can also enhance business with tax breaks and government incentives, according to Roxanne Da Mata Gonçalves, transformation specialist and director of Strata-g Labour Solutions.
“Employers cannot keep hiding behind the so-called ‘high costs’ of hiring people with disabilities. The Employment Equity Act calls for fair representation of all South African demographics, including those with disabilities, within the workforce,” she explains. “People with disabilities are as efficient as their able-bodied colleagues and, in some cases, even perform better.”
Research to back it
The disability practices and the financial performance of 140 companies over four years were studied by Accenture in partnership with disabilities organisations. The 45 companies that led in disability employment and inclusion, on average, showed 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income and 30 percent higher economic profit margins over the four years compared with companies without disabilities policies.
According to Statistics South Africa, the national disability prevalence rate is 7,5 percent, yet employees with disabilities make up only one percent of the workforce.
“To encourage employment and increase the number of people with disabilities in the workplace, the government has offered tax rebates and tax incentives to organisations tapping into this specific workforce,” says Da Mata Gonçalves.
Employers offering learnership programmes can claim up to R60 000 from SARS for initiating the programme, and another R60 000 when the programme concludes. “If you had 10 learners at the end of your learnership programme, bringing the tally to R120 000 per learner, and a net profit of R2 million before tax, there would be a R1,2-million tax exemption,” Da Mata Gonçalves explains.
“This means an organisation would only be required to pay 28 percent tax on the remaining R800 000.” Beyond this, employers can use the special window offered to people with disabilities to apply for training through the various Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).
“The SETA route will grant an employer enhanced recognition from a BBBEE perspective with the ability to claim 0,3 percent from their BBBEE score,” Da Mata Gonçalves says. “If those individuals are from a previously disadvantaged background, you can claim against that too. Gauteng has also allocated five percent of the provincial budget to suppliers with disabilities.”
According to the World Bank, a billion people or 15 percent of the global population have a disability. Only an estimated 50 percent of those with a disability who are of a working age are employed compared with 80 percent of people without a disability.
“There are several business cases that have proven the benefits of hiring persons with disabilities. The objections to placing employees with disabilities stem from the disruptions to operations and costs associated with reasonable accommodation,” Da Mata Gonçalves says. “However, the benefits of hiring professionals with disabilities far outweigh the adjustment required to create universal access. All organisations need do is understand how they can capitalise on the various incentives offered by the government and stop infringing on the law by excluding people with disabilities.”