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Issue #1629      March 5, 2014

Govts must step up employment of people with disabilities

The National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) has called on the federal government to set realistic and achievable targets for the employment of people with disabilities in the Australian Public Service. State governments and Territories should do the same.

“Over the last 20 years the employment of people with disabilities in the public service has almost halved, falling by 45 percent”, said the NWRN’s Maree O’Halloran,

“We note that the Greens have tabled a private member’s bill to require the public service to double its employment of people with disabilities over the next five years. Hopefully, this bill will spark a public debate.”

The numbers of people with disabilities in the public service is at a 20-year low, and the service is losing three times as many people as it is hiring. The public sector cannot force the private sector to employ people with disabilities; however, it can lead the way.

In 1994, there were 8,063 people with disabilities employed in the Australian Public Service. However, by 2013 just 4,450 people with disabilities were employed. This represents about 2.9 percent of the 167,000 people in the public service, down from 5 percent in July 1999. Last year, a strategy was launched by the Australian Public Service to increase the numbers of people with disability among its ranks. Unfortunately, the employment of people with disabilities is still at its lowest in two decades.

The Department of Human Services has adopted a target of 5 percent for the employment of Indigenous Australians which is very welcome. Ms O’Halloran said that in the face of the current debate about work participation and income support for people with disabilities, it is astounding that it refuses to adopt a target for people with disabilities. People with mental health conditions and chronic illnesses, for example, may need a great deal of flexibility in the workplace and the public service and other big employers have the best chance of providing this flexibility.

“The labour force participation rate for people with disability is only 53 percent, significantly lower when compared to people without a disability, which stands at 83 percent. We know that the rates of employment of people with disabilities are shockingly low.”

A report by the Australian Public Service Commissioner found that Australia’s performance in employing people with disabilities is “well behind other international jurisdictions”, with the proportion of civil service employees with a disability in the United Kingdom at percent in March 2011 and 5.6 percent in the Canadian Public Service. The successful result in Canada is linked to the passage of the Employment Equity Act in 1995.

“NWRN urges all governments and employers to step up and provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities including mental health conditions,” said Ms O’Halloran.

Next article – West Australians in Senate re-run

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