New data just released by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reforms Council confirms the economic and social participation rate for disabled people in Australia has not improved since 2003.
The report, which spans the six years from 2003 until 2009, is damning of a lack of infrastructure that would improve employment prospects of disabled people, who represent one in five Australians. Whilst the national figures remain grim, individual states and territories – particularly WA, NT and the ACT – have showed some improvement. WA, however, was the only state to record an improvement in not only participation rate but also the employment to population rate.
Nationally, in 2009, the participation rate for people with a disability was 54.3% compared to 82.8% of the general population. However, from July this year the Federal Government will be increasing subsidies to employers of disabled workers under the National Disability insurance scheme, and this could serve to improve the current situation. Recruiters and employers need to be aware of potential bias against this section of the workforce, and implement strategies to minimise the effects, Julie Mills, CEO of the Information Technology Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) commented. “People with disability form around 20% of the population and 10% of the workforce, and present a huge opportunity for companies struggling to improve workplace productivity and minimise skills shortages,” Mills said. She added that recruiters and employers often forget or discount the value of accessing this group’s capabilities as a potential resource, and focus on other more publicised marginalised groups of workers, namely those returning to work after childbirth, indigenous workers and graduates.
ITCRA’s report also stated that the rapid improvement in technology has increased the capability and productivity of people with disability in the workplace. Yet despite these improvements, the current ratios of employment do not reflect the capabilities and willingness of the disability sector.
Mills said one reason for the slow take-up may be due to the long ‘corporate memory’ of the costs involved in implementing assistive technologies back in the 1990s, when (now free) voice recognition software cost as much as $10,000.
John Walsh, a PwC partner and author of a new report, Disability Expectations: Investing in a better life, a stronger Australia, said that as a disabled person himself, he has been lucky to have very supportive employers, but that support isn’t always there for others.
Walsh said employers commonly have questions over “’How do we employ someone like this’, ‘how are the other work mates going to deal with it’, ‘what happens if they get an injury – are they covered by workers’ compensation?’,” and he commented “all of these questions imply a need for employers to be supportive in how they even get to square one.”
A third of the disabled population reported the need for more formal assistance than they were receiving and almost half of that population live below the poverty line, double the OECD average.
The figures place Australia 21st out of 27 on the list of OECD countries according to a recent report by global professional services firm, PwC. Former NSW Government Minister, John Della Bosca, an outspoken campaigner for the National Disability Services Lobby, has previously labelled the employment rate of disabled persons a ‘national shame’.
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