Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Private sector refusing to employ disabled persons under gov't summer programme

Published:Monday | October 3, 2016 | 10:00 AMJovan Johnson
Naketa West

Some private-sector companies are allegedly turning up their noses at employing young, disabled Jamaicans as part of the National Youth Service (NYS) summer work programme.

Over the years, hundreds of private-sector organisations have partnered with the NYS to accept youth placed at their businesses during the summer months.

But Naketa West, NYS acting executive director, revealed during last Wednesday's meeting of the Public Administration

and Appropriation Committee (PAAC) of Parliament, that it has been difficult getting employment for some youth.

PAAC committee member Mikael Phillips raised the issue, pointing to private-sector organisations who, he said, "give verbal commitments, but when you actually come to engage them with the individuals, there is no serious take-up".

West agreed, saying the problem is "rampant".

"We do have a challenge as it relates to engaging private-sector partners as ... [in terms of] persons with disabilities. We've employed what we call the 'supported work experience model' where the persons with disabilities are supported by job coaches. They are more intensive in how we recruit and secure placements and, so far, for that programme, we have secured private-sector placement," she said.

"But otherwise, for the graduate work-experience programme, the summer programme, those challenges are still existing, and it is rampant. It is very difficult in securing those placement opportunities for six months - [or] for even three weeks - for persons with disabilities who need the opportunity to be exposed to work experience."

ISSUES TO CONSIDER

Dennis Chung, chief executive officer at the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, said he was not aware that members were refusing disabled persons, but noted that there are issues to be considered.

"It's not that there's no take-up. There's a significant amount of people that go to NYS. If you look at it from a percentage point of view, it might be low, but if you look at it from a numbers [point of view], one could argue it might not be bad. People make their decisions based on their own requirements, and many times, what people do is assess what their needs are," he told The Gleaner.

"We'll do our best in terms of trying to sensitise our members."

He said the PSOJ would never countenance discrimination of disabled persons.

"There are companies in the private sector who actually allocate spaces for [disabled] people and do have people who are disabled working in the organisation."

NOT SURPRISED

Meanwhile, Floyd Morris, a leading disabilities advocate and deputy opposition spokesman on labour, said he was not surprised at the reports coming from the NYS.

"If there is such a problem, the NYS has to come to the table with some specific figures as to what the situation is, because you would want to be able to compare what the take-up of regular NYS applicants has been in comparison with what it has been with persons with disabilities. I know that there is a big problem with employment of persons with disabilities right across the society - in the public sector, and it's even worse in the private sector."

West did not give a breakdown of the number of persons with disabilities who applied this summer, the ones who were successful in being placed, those who actually worked, or specific reasons for refusals.

However, Morris, who is blind, said the situation calls for "the expeditious implementation of the Disabilities Act" that was passed by the Parliament in 2014, affirming the principle that a person with a disability has the same fundamental rights as any other person.

"If we don't have legislative provisions to protect persons with disabilities against discrimination, we are going to continue to see companies refusing to employ persons with disabilities," he added.

The NYS selects thousands of young people yearly for its summer work programme, which is geared towards developing employability skills and volunteerism.

West said more than 5,650 people were employed under the programme this summer.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com