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National Inquiry into Employment and Disability: Consultation with NSW EEO Practitioners Association Members

National Inquiry into Employment and Disability:
Consultation with NSW EEO Practitioners Association Members

Monday 10 October 2005
9.30am - 12pm

Hosted by ABC


Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - Vanessa Lesnie;
ABC - Chrissie Tucker;
Bluescope Steel - Daryl Kilby;
Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Melissa Collins;
Qantas - Sandra Triulzi;
Reserve Bank of Australia - Julie Ford;
Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children - Rob Walker

Summary of discussion

Employers shared their experiences regarding the employment of people with disability. They assisted the Inquiry by providing feedback on the Inquiry's efforts to develop models for ongoing supports, work trial programs and flexible workplaces. Employers also provided some ideas on how to progress efforts to increase employment of people with disability.

General experiences and comments about employing people with disability

  • The ageing workforce is bringing the issue of employing people with disability to the fore
  • Often the problems that arise with an employee with disability are no different to other employees but the focus is on the disability and this is a barrier to further employment
  • There is a big difference in corporate attitude between keeping an existing employee who acquires a disability, and hiring a new person with a pre-existing disability. In the former case there is an existing relationship, a duty of care and often workers compensation covers any rehabilitation and adjustment costs. In the latter case there is no knowledge about work capacity and therefore less incentive to take on the risks
  • There are serious attitudinal barriers amongst managers
  • Special measures for employees with disability can cause industrial issues because others may have to carry an extra load as a result
  • OHS concerns impact on the employment of people with disability and the use of volunteers
  • The Workplace Modifications Scheme is not working. There needs to be adequate funding for individual support needs eg software, parking etc
  • Some companies are considering using recruitment agencies that have a policy to recruit people with disability, but generally speaking recruitment agencies are a real block in the system. This is because it takes longer to place such job seekers so they often get left off the list of candidates presented to a company
  • The decline in entry-level positions makes it difficult to find jobs for people with intellectual disability
  • Some companies are developing online learning products for both employees and customers. These products focus on the benefits of having employees with disability and describe ways to adapt to diverse needs.

Provision of supports to employees with disability

  • Many companies pay external companies to provide psychological assessments in recruitment, counselling services to staff, management and families, and training for staff (eg Davidson Trahaire)
  • Some large operations have a full time health centre (nurses, occupational physicians, hygienists, rehabilitation specialists) and self-insure
  • Others rely on CRS Australia or workers compensation insurers to provide rehabilitation services  

Work trials

  • It is not clear whether a work trial scheme would make a big difference to an employer's willingness to take on employees with disability. Generally speaking this is not a generous working environment and there is a reluctance to take on any additional risks - whether they are real or perceived
  • If there were a work trial scheme it would need to be a minimum of six months to be effective. All administrative and other supports would need to be provided externally. This is more important than covering wage costs.

Flexibility in the workplace

  • Many companies have workplace policies that allow for substantial flexibility. However, there is still a large gap between workplace policies that provide for flexibility and agreement from managers to implement those policies
  • The key is not to make workplace flexibility disability specific as this just creates another barrier to recruitment and reinforces the cultural reluctance of managers to hire people with disability

Suggested strategies to increase employment of people with disability

  • Special projects: for example a fully funded, industry specific special education project that is properly coordinated could make a real difference in educating employers on the benefits of employing people with disability. If there is substantial government support to start with, corporations may well follow suit by donations in kind. It would be worth looking at models that have been used in the context of employment of Indigenous people (for example the 'Corporate Leaders for Indigenous Employment' run by DEWR)
  • Keep it simple: need to educate employers that it is not that hard to have an employee with disability
  • Recruitment agencies: People with disability should be encouraged to apply for jobs through recruitment agencies - not just government funded employment services
  • Mainstreaming: It is important to emphasise that workplace policies and practices that apply to people with disability are no different to any other employee
  • Specialist services: there should be easily accessible information and advice on how to cater to the needs of employees with different disabilities
  • Workplace modifications: need a scheme that is sensible and practical
  • Success stories: need employers to share their success stories