Employment of persons with disabilities in Malaysia
(Economic Briefing to the Penang State Government, March 2002)
by Khor Hung Teik
Can disabled persons be effective contributors to society instead of remaining on welfare? Malaysia is signatory to numerous conventions with regard to equal opportunities and equal treatment for disabled persons. However, our Malaysian society has still not given adequate thought to the productivity factor of disabled persons and as to whether they can be gainfully employed. Disabled persons are often stereotyped into “welfare” cases constantly in need of handouts instead of being seen as productive persons who can also contribute to the economy.
The World Bank estimates (2000) that the total loss to the gross domestic product of between US$1.37 trillion to US$1.94 trillion worldwide directly due to the exclusion of disabled people from the mainstream of society. For Malaysia, the figures are estimated at US$1.18-1.68 billion.
Disabled people have the potential to make a valuable contribution in the workforce, as employees, entrepreneurs or employers of others.
Some employers have started to tap this potential. Many governments have introduced legislation, policies and programmes to promote employment opportunities for jobseekers with disabilities, job retention by people who acquire a disability while in employment, and return to work by those who have left their jobs due to their disability.
But many disabled people who are willing and able to work are unemployed – as many as 80% in some countries. Frequently, this unemployment is because employers assume that people with disabilities are unable to work and are unwilling to give them the opportunity. Often, it is because these people have not had access to education or training in employable skills, or because the support services they require are not available, or because of unsupportive legislation and policies. Sometimes, it is because buildings or transportation are inaccessible to them.
These and other obstacles stand in the way of disabled people finding a job which will enable them to earn their own living, support their families and contribute to the national economy. The resulting loss is felt at every level, not only by disabled people themselves and their families, but also by employers and the wider society.
According to the World Bank calculations (using a factor of 9.9% disabled persons for High Human Development [HHD] countries), Malaysia would have around 2,200,000 disabled persons in 2000. Since there is a lack of data in Malaysia to verify such a high figure, an estimate of 1% is usually used by local authorities lowering the figure to 220,000 disabled persons. However, only 99,000 persons are registered and the Welfare Department has only been able to place 4,490 disabled persons to work in the public sector from 1990 to 2001. Government Service Circular No. 10/1998, stipulated that at least 1% of job opportunities in the public sector is to be allocated to disabled persons. However, according to the Ministry of Human Resource, only 538 disabled persons have been successfully placed in the Government service till now. The Labour Department has tried to play its role in aiding disabled persons play an active role in national development and expose disabled persons to the appropriate field and type of jobs. A national committee to encourage the employment of disabled persons by the private sector chaired by the Hon. Minister of Human Resources has been established in 1990. Technical Committees to aid this have also been formed at the national and state levels. The Ministry of Human Resource has also organized symposiums, job fairs, and awards for outstanding disabled persons who have succeeded in their careers. On 9 November 2001, the Ministry launched a Code Of Practices for the Employment of Disabled Persons in the Private Sector. An insurance scheme for disabled persons is also being formulated and the Ministry is also looking into developing a databank for employment of disabled persons in the private sector.
Table 1: REGISTRATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN PENANG (2001)
DISABILITY TYPE MALAY CHINESE INDIAN OTHERS TOTAL %
VISUAL 311 170 51 0 532 8%
HEARING 516 565 122 1 1,204 18%
PHYSICAL 1,074 810 375 0 2,259 34%
INTELLECTUAL 1,282 1,007 274 0 2,563 39%
TOTAL 3,183 2,552 822 1 6,558 100%
% 48.5% 38.9% 12.5% 0.02% 100.0%
Source: State Welfare Department 2001
The Penang State Welfare Department registered a total of 6,558 disabled persons in Penang at the end of 2001. (See Table 1.) However, it is estimated that many disabled persons in Penang are not registered. A good estimate would be 1% of the total population of Penang bringing the figure up to 12,200 out of 1.22 million people (Census 2000). Out of those who are registered by the end of 2001, 39% are intellectually disabled, 34% physically disabled and hearing impaired 18%. There are also no statistics available on the number of disabled persons that are currently employed or placed by the Labour Department. However, we believe that disabled persons can make a valuable contribution to the State if they are gainfully employed no matter what the real numbers are.
In Malaysia, some companies have started employing disabled persons in greater numbers as they are proven to be loyal and productive. Some of the good examples are, Tan Chong Motors (M), OYL Sdn Bhd., Chip Pac (M) Sdn Bhd. In Penang itself, some good examples are Leong Bee Soo Bee (LBSB) Sdn. Bhd, Agilent Technologies Sdn. Bhd., International Footwear Sdn. Bhd. and Pen Apparel Sdn. Bhd. There are also some architecture firms who employ deaf persons as draughtspersons, whilst some are self-employed eg. Batik painting.
Barriers To Employment
In order for individuals, disabled or not, to obtain decent work, certain conditions must exist.
Workers need basic life, literacy and generic work skills, technical skills and business skills in the case of the self-employed or entrepreneurs,
The economy must create good jobs and self-employment opportunities,
A vocational guidance/employment services system should have a process for guiding and matching to the right job training and job opportunities,
The infrastructure should include services conducive employment like transportation, effective communication systems, and
To ensure job retention and security, the workplace should promote appropriate health and safety measures, access to lifelong learning opportunities and other enlightened workplace practices.
However, the path to decent work is fraught with barriers for disabled persons. These barriers include both physical, mental and policy barriers such as:
Low self esteem among disabled persons and overprotective families
Negative attitudes arising from ignorance, myths, stereotypes and fear,
Acceptance by workplace colleagues,
Prejudice on the disabled person’s productive ability
Unequal access to education and training programmes which includes lack of inclusion in poverty alleviation, credit and business development schemes,
Inaccessible buildings and lack of infrastructure facilities at workplace,
Reluctance of employers to provide facilities and infrastructure at workplace,
Inaccessible transportation to and from the workplace,
Lack of suitable housing near workplace,
Lack of access to assistive devices, technology and support
Barriers to Communication and Information Systems, such as the Internet for blind persons
Lack of policy support including legislation
Lack of enforcement of existing legislation and regulations
Lack of databank for job seeking and matching purposes
Practical Measures To Overcome Barriers
In order to address the problems faced by disabled persons in achieving gainful employment, some practical measures have to adopted based on the following aspects:
Vocational Guidance / employment services
Infrastructure and Environment
In order for fuller attention and support to be given to disabled issues, there must be adequate legislation in the country to support this. There is a need to re-enforce the Memorandum on Employment of Disabled Persons that has been submitted to Government in 2001 as well as the stricter enforcement of the Uniform Building By-laws pertaining to accessibility of the built environment. It is also suggested that a “Senator” Body be established to monitor and coordinate the enforcement of such by-laws and code of practice. The National Consultative Committee for disabled persons should be reactivated as a partner in the enforcement process. Japan has implemented the grants and levy system whereby organizations with above 301 regular employees but which do not fulfill their quota of employing disabled persons are required to pay a levy of 50,000 yen (RM1,440) per person short to support other employers who have fulfilled their quota. Hopefully, Malaysia can implement something similar.
Disabled persons must possess the life and technical skills that are responsive to the present job market situation and not stereotype traditional skills that have been taught in segregated centers for years. Skills must reflect changing times from an industrial to a k-economy that requires the ability to work in teams and are proficient IT. Wherever possible, disabled persons must be included in mainstream programmes. A database on skills required for the job (coping skills and job skills) for disabled persons must be established and research carried out on the job market. The present curriculum must be recognized by the National Occupational Safety Standards (NOSS) with a possibility of link up with the National Information Technology Council (NITC).
Jobs for disabled persons can be expanded in the formal sector through the use of new techniques like supported employment, by implementing simple work adjustments and modifying the physical environment. Certain jobs are deemed suitable for disabled persons and there should be job quotas reserved for disabled persons for such jobs eg. toll collection by physically disabled persons. However, there should be increased flexibility in the provision of jobs and no categorization of jobs (stereotyping of different categories of disabled persons with certain jobs only). Skills too must match job specification and job placement officers for disabled persons must be able to seek out appropriate jobs for disabled persons according to their skills.
Grants, subsidies and credits should also be provided to disabled persons who wish to become entrepreneurs or work from home.
Vocational guidance and employment services should include assessment, guidance and referral to appropriate training programmes and active job placement. In view of this, job placement officers must be trained in special skills needed to work with disabled individuals (eg. How to conduct job analysis, increase knowledge about work adjustments and assistive devices and how to sign for deaf clients). More training centers; both centralized and decentralized; should be set up for disabled persons. There should also be unified standards in the curriculum of training schools. The curriculum should also emphasize adaptability of disabled persons to different work situations.
Infrastructure and Environment
Employment of persons with disabilities requires special considerations such as improvement of workplace and equipment. Employers must be urged to comply with the existing Uniform Building By-Laws to make their workplace accessible as well as provide adequate facilities for disabled persons. Wherever possible, they must also provide transportation facilities or accessible housing near the workplace. More incentives should be given to employers such as tax deduction for employment of disabled persons; grants to renovate and retrofit the workplace must also be provided.
Follow-up is a critical step after a disabled person is matched to a job. This is especially true for individuals with intellectual and mental impairments and also those who wish to enter into business startups. Problems may arise after job placement and interventions may be necessary to ensure a satisfied placement or small business startup. In order to retain disabled persons at their jobs, they must have access to the same opportunities for promotion and lifelong learning that is key to career stability and welfare.
Follow-up should also be done by the job placement officer or departments concerned to see if disabled persons receive emotional guidance, job development and capacity building. This is especially true in providing disabled persons with opportunities to be exposed to and to acquire and upgrade IT skills. It is also essential that co-workers be also educated to interact and work with disabled persons as a team in the workplace.
All the measures mentioned above also need the support of the employers of disabled persons themselves. In this aspect, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) can play an important role in creating greater awareness among employers and the public on the abilities of disabled persons and provide guidance and support to those enterprises that are starting to employ disabled persons.
Disabled persons are able to contribute significantly to our economy and society if given the employment opportunities. However, all parties must cooperate and change their mentality towards the employment of the disabled. Employers should change their mindsets and employ disabled persons as meeting social responsibility rather than meeting their HR requirements in their organizations.
Employment Quota System for Persons With Disabilities in Japan
a. Private Sector:
General Private Enterprises (56 or more regular workers) : 1.8%
Special Corporations (48 or more regular staff members) : 2.1%
b. Public Sector
Government and Local Public Bodies (48 or more regular staff members) : 2.1%
Prefectural Board of Education etc. (50 or more regular staff members) : 2.0%
Robert L. Metts, 2000 Disability Issues, Trends and Recommendations for the World Bank
World Bank, 2000
Perry, P. 2002; Promoting Employment of People with Disabilities: The ILO Perspective. Paper presented in Joint Seminar On Employment of Persons with Disabilities, 12-13 March 2002, KL
Mizoguchi, E. 2002; Employment Measure For Persons With Disabilities in Japan. Paper presented in Joint Seminar On Employment of Persons with Disabilities, 12-13 March 2002, KL
Proposed Action Plans: Main Issues; Joint Seminar On Employment of Persons with Disabilities, 12-13 March 2002, KL
Workshop Discussions, Joint Seminar On Employment of Persons with Disabilities, 12-13 March 2002, KL
Discussions with organizations of the Disabled, Sustainable Independent Living & Access (SILA), March 2002
Disability and the World At Work, ILO Website: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/employment/skills/disability/diswork.htm
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