Opinion – Are employers doing enough for disabled workers?

Opinion – Are employers doing enough for disabled workers?

The government has put in place various policies aimed at providing access to the labour market for those who are unemployed. There is acknowledgement that people with disabilities are not accessing the labour market in sufficient numbers. 

Research has shown that unemployment among people with disabilities stands at a record high of 39%, compared to the national unemployment rate of 28%. Furthermore, considering that persons with disabilities amount to about 5% of the Namibian population (amounting to about 120 000 people), it is apparent that thousands of Namibians require additional assistance (New Era 2019). 

To add to the difficulties experienced by people with disabilities, their access to the work place is extremely limited, with only one person with a disability in Namibia being employed from April 2020 to June 2020 (meaning that only one person with a disability was placed in a three-month period) (Namibian 17 August 2020).

According to a study conducted in the Khomas and Kunene regions, 69.72% of people with disabilities in Khomas and 91% in Kunene are currently unemployed. (Namibia Sun/New Era 2023)

These alarming statistics highlight the urgent need for intervention to address the challenges faced by these individuals in accessing and retaining employment. In light of the aforementioned, two of the measures that may be relevant to redressing this situation are the provision of unemployment services to disabled persons, as well as including such persons in the work-creation programmes of the government.

S Mitra has done preliminary research on the decline of employment for persons with disabilities in South Africa from 1998 to 2006. She suggests there may be an inverse relationship between increased access to disability grants and employment (Mitra 487-489). Other possible causes of decline include the disabling effects of HIV/AIDS, inaccessible work environments, employment rights for work environments, and employment rights for persons with disabilities. 

While these causes are not exhaustive, research on each of these possible causes is imperative to gain a more holistic understanding of why people with disabilities are so underrepresented in the labour market. The Employment Service Act (Act No. 8 of 2011) has laudable objectives that include the promotion of employment, the improvement of access to the labour market for work-seekers, the promotion of the employment prospects of work-seekers, and vulnerable work-seekers in particular, and the facilitation of access to education and training for the same category of persons.

These objectives are to be achieved through the provision of ‘comprehensive’ and integrated free public employment services. The coordination of public service activities that impact the provision of employment services; the encouragement of partnerships to promote employment; the establishment of skills and other measures to promote employment; and the provision of a regulatory framework for the provisions of private employment services.

Establishment of work schemes must aim to enable youth and vulnerable work-seekers to enter employment, remain in employment, or be placed in opportunities for self-employment. These schemes must provide work that complies with the employment standards set in the Labour Act (Act No. 11 of 2007). 

Additionally, to recognise the plight of people with disabilities, the government has passed the National Disability Council Act, 2004 (No. 26 of 2004), to improve the quality of life by enhancing the dignity, well-being and empowerment of persons with disabilities. The government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2004, and endorsed the African Decade Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities in 2005. 

The hopeful passing of the currently-tabled legislature will improve the livelihood and wellbeing of our citizenry with disabilities.

In conclusion, although much has been done to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities, we must continue to hold all relevant role-players, both private and public, accountable, and
require them to work progressively to ensure access to employment opportunities for these vulnerable persons.

I quote the words of the famous playwright William Shakespeare: “I cried when I had no shoes, but I stopped crying when I saw a man without legs,” and as the Italian-Jewish partisan and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi famously asked: “If not now, when?”

*Reverend Jan A Scholtz is the former chairperson of the //Kharas Regional Council and former! Nami#nus constituency councillor. He holds a Diploma in Theology, B-Theo (SA), a Diploma in Youth Work and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), as well as a Diploma in Education III (KOK) BA (HED) from UNISA.