Give people with disabilities a chance to shine in the workplace

Former president Kgalema Moglanthe addresses the International of persons with disability in Stellenbosch back in 2009. Leon Mgweba and Bongani Nongqauza among those people with disabilities. Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Michael Bagraim writes that people with disabilities form part of the employment equity programmes and businesses that complete their employment equity plans should be reflecting the disabled community. Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published May 12, 2022


Whilst we face in South Africa a veritable tsunami of unemployment, there are certain sectors affected more than others. Traditionally, South Africa reports on the high unemployment figures across the board of about 40%.

The expanded unemployment figures across the board are close to 50%. However, we are aware the youth are affected really badly at over 60%.

The statistics also show uneducated black women are one of the worst-off groupings in the country. However, very little research seems to have been done with regard to persons with disabilities in South Africa.

When the previous minister of employment stated four years ago that she wanted to see 3% of the civil service being represented by the disability sector, she was applauded.

Today the current minister of employment and labour has explained the civil service has less than 1% of people with disabilities. We are also told that almost 7% of our population consists of people with disabilities.

These statistics are horrific and show how we have done very little to try to accommodate the disability sector in the workplace. Both the private sector and the public sector have failed the disabled community miserably.

We have various pieces of legislation enforcing and encouraging employers to have proper representation at the workplace. People with disabilities form part of the employment equity programmes and businesses that complete their employment equity plans should be reflecting the disabled community.

These plans should also reflect the future structure of the workforce which would include at least 3% of the disabled sector. By and large, my experience has shown me that very seldom do these plans even mention persons with disabilities.

Over and above this, my direct involvement with annual negotiations between employers and trade unions has never ever evidenced demands for the future employment of people with disabilities.

I have on numerous occasions mentioned this to trade unions, but the enthusiasm to add this to the list of demands has been dismal. The reality is there are very few people speaking up on behalf of this community.

While the economy is in the doldrums and while unemployment is on the rise, I don’t believe anyone will voluntarily add the plight of the disabled to their list of requests and demands.

In January 2018, the AU adopted a protocol dealing with the rights of persons with disabilities in Africa. This protocol has not been adopted yet by the South African government but adoption is imminent.

We have adopted the protocols as contained in the International Labour Organization and our Constitution in South Africa specifically supports the rights of the disabled community.

The AU has outlined and acknowledged that persons with disabilities have inherent dignity and individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices.

They have specifically appreciated the value of persons with disabilities, including those with high support needs, as full members of society.

They noted persons with disabilities often experienced poverty. Bearing the above in mind, they supported the protocol ensuring non-discrimination and full and effective participation and inclusion in society. We are enjoined to respect the difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity.

The protocol is a good document and does promote measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organisation or private enterprise.

The clauses on non-discrimination are fantastic and should be supported by every government within the AU.

Already in South Africa, we have the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability and we guarantee to persons with disabilities equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds.

The real issue is that we seldom take steps to ensure that specific measures are provided to persons with disabilities to eliminate discrimination.

The real problem is many employers don’t take appropriate measures to protect this community and many individuals in management have an inherent viewpoint of discriminating against those with disabilities. There is still an enormous amount of fear and worry.

Many employers are judgmental and not even willing to give those within the disability sector a chance to shine.

* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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