The proportion of disabled people being hired is not growing, despite targets set by labour legislation.
Under the 2003 Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, disabled black people should make up 2% of an organisation’s total workforce in its first five years of existence to earn maximum points towards their black economic empowerment (BEE) rating.
A company that has been in business for six to 10 years should have 3% of its workforce made up of black disabled people. The better a company’s rating, the more attractive it is as a business partner. But there is no penalty for companies that don’t comply – they simply don’t earn points, says Angela Carter, labour lawyer at skills training company The Office Coach, based in Port Elizabeth.
“Even though the act has been around for 10 years, disabled people make up less than 1% of the workforce,” says Carter. The 2011 census, which measures disability in a fairly broad way, finds that up to 9% of the population have some form of disability. This compares with 5% in the 2001 census, when disability was more narrowly defined.
It’s estimated that out of those with disabilities, only about half (about 2,5% of the total population) would be able to work, because of their age or ability. The Commission for Employment Equity annual report, 2011, says people of all races with disabilities make up about 0,8% of the total workforce. This has changed little over the years – it was 0,5% in 2007 and 0,9% in 2009.
“It’s stable but not improving as there are so many problems affecting the employability of disabled people, from transport issues to unsuitable infrastructure, lack of awareness and people’s fear of employing people with disabilities,” says Carter. Under the 1998 Employment Equity Act, employers who do not employ a representative portion of disabled people of all races could face a maximum fine of R500000. But Carter says labour inspectors are not checking on companies, so it is not enforced.
The proposed Employment Equity Amendment Bill contains harsher penalties for noncompliance. The maximum fine for contravening certain provisions – including that related to employing disabled people – is the greater of R1,5m or 2% of the employer’s turnover. The labour department has said the bill should come into effect before year-end.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on labour is reviewing the bill. Carter welcomes the harsher penalties. “All things being equal, our workforce should reflect the employable part of our population.”