Over an year ago, the International Labour Organisation came out with the idea of creating a Global Business and Disability Network - a platform for multinational companies, employers’ organisations, N.G.O.s and disabled peoples’ organisations, etc.. The idea is to facilitate the employment of people with disabilities. It recently held its Asian meeting in Bengaluru on February 17. Hosted by Wipro at its Sarjapur campus, the meeting saw participation from several Indian and multinational companies. Several presentations on best practices by companies worldwide were also made. Dorodi Sharma of D.N.I.S. writes about the Network, the meeting and what it needs to change the scenario for people with disabilities in India vis-à-vis employment in the private sector.
Despite a lot of noises being made about employment of people with disabilities in the past several years, especially in the private sector, proportionate results have been elusive. To address a few of these issues, the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) is in the process of launching its Global Business and Disability Network - a voluntary group from business, industry and employers’ organisations and networks and selected non-governmental and disabled peoples’ organisations. The primary purpose of this Network will be to facilitate disability diversity in the workforce and to promote it from the perspective of business and human rights cases.
The idea is to bring out role models and create a platform for knowledge sharing by companies. The Network now has 31 companies and 11 employers’ organisations worldwide. It is currently organising meetings in various countries to promote the idea, garner support and chalk out strategies before the official launch.
It was about a year ago that I.L.O. contacted National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (N.C.P.E.D.P.) for guidance vis-à-vis India. N.C.P.E.D.P. put them in touch with a few role model corporates. One year from then, the Asian meeting was held in Bengaluru on February 17, in collaboration with Wipro. Wipro is one of the 3 Indian companies who are members of this Network, the other two being MphasiS and Tata Consultancy Services. Several role model stories from across the world were presented at the daylong event.
Fauzi Hassan, H.R. Director of Carrefour Malaysia Singapore, presented Carrefour’s story in employing people with disabilities. Carrefour currently has 10,500 employees with disabilities worldwide. But majority of these employees are in the European countries. In Malaysia, hiring is done through organisations working for disabled people, through Government bodies, through job fairs and through strategic hiring. For example, Carrefour’s C.S.R. Head in Malaysia is a wheelchair user. Hassan also shared the results of an in house survey done by Carrefour where 84 percent of the respondents were satisfied with the performance of disabled employees.
Telenor Pakistan made an interesting presentation via teleconference on their work vis-à-vis disability. Telenor has a programme on disability called ‘Khuddar’ and works on accessibility, awareness and inclusion. Telenor worked with a disability advisor for this programme. It also has a radio talk show on the issue. Besides this, Telenor supports assistive technology labs and is conducting audits of its premises and sponsoring various disabled peoples’ organisations.
There were also employers’ organisations from Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Australia which made presentations at the meeting. Of these, the Australian Network on Disability was the only employers’ organisation which was solely focused on disability. This Network provides consultancy to member companies on creating opportunities for people with disabilities, knowledge sharing, training, etc. for a substantial fee.
In India, organisations such as N.C.P.E.D.P. have been providing more or less the same guidance to companies on employment over the last decade but purely on a pro bono basis. Over the last decade, several other organisations have emerged which provide paid consultancy to corporates in India. The three leading ones are Diversity and Equal Opportunity Centre, Anubhuti H.R. and Enable India. However, an employers’ network solely on disability is still a distant dream in India. A gap that needs to be plugged.
Among the Indian companies, Wipro and MphasiS presented their case studies. Incidentally, both are N.C.P.E.D.P.- Shell Helen Keller Awardees. Isaac George, H.R. Head of Wipro, presented the company’s impressive diversity policy. It started in 2007 with accommodation on request of a few employees who acquired disability. Today, there is a conscious inclusivity plan with a framework, policy and recruitment of people with disabilities. Wipro is working towards making its disability policy a way of life by 2012. It is also ensuring that all its new campuses are built in an accessible manner and the old ones get retrofitted to the extent possible.
Participants at the Asian Regional Meeting in Bengaluru
Dr. Meenu Bhambhani, Global Head, C.S.R. of MphasiS, spoke on the strategies followed at MphasiS. These include ensuring confidentiality, reasonable accommodation, training, health care, etc. MphasiS also gives 10 months’ salary as loan amount for disabled employees to buy accessible mode of transport. MphasiS works with partners to recruit and empower disabled people.
However, it was also obvious from some presentations that a lot remains to be done. Disability has yet not been taken at a policy level and is still restricted to C.S.R. activities like running I.T. training centres for a handful of visually impaired people and not even being able to absorb all of them in their own list of companies!
Also, a common grouse that companies voiced was the lack of skilled disabled people to recruit. However, Javed Abidi, Honorary Director, N.C.P.E.D.P., said in his address that there are numerous stories of qualified and deserving people with disabilities being discriminated against by prospective employers. A case in point was that of a graduate from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad who was the only person in his entire batch to not have been selected during campus recruitment because of his hearing impairment. Abidi also reiterated that accessibility, education and employment cannot be talked about in isolation. Only 2 percent of children with disabilities have access to any kind of education. This dismal percentage gets even lower as the level of education gets higher from primary to high school to college and university.
Until enough impetus is given to education of children/people with disabilities, there will be a dearth of skilled disabled people. Abidi urged corporates who have been promoting education to also promote education of children with disabilities.
During the course of the meeting, I.L.O. also shared the outcomes and findings of their Paris and New York meetings. Towards the end of the day, roundtable discussions on the Network on the issues of funding, operational procedures, ideas, communication methods, etc. were held.
Employment of people with disabilities in India even in the public sector, where it is mandated by law, has been very dismal. The 3 percent reservation as per the Disability Act of 1995 has not been met. Till November 2010, only 1017 vacancies out of 7628 backlog vacancies had been filled up by the Government. An incentive scheme for private sector employers recruiting people with disabilities was launched with much fanfare in 2008 by the then Finance Minister with a tall claim of creating 100,000 jobs per annum. To say that the scheme has been an embarrassing failure will be an extremely polite statement.
The trends observed through the N.C.P.E.D.P.- Shell Helen Keller Awards, which have become a benchmark for those promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities, is also an indicator that only a handful of companies/organisations are doing anything worth mentioning to promote employment of disabled people. The same corporates (read I.T. sector companies and hotel industry) keep appearing each year with a few new entries. At this meeting also, the participants were the usual suspects. Moreover, only 3 Indian companies have so far joined this Network. All these facts point towards a still very disheartening scenario for people with disabilities in India vis-à-vis employment.
Although, I.L.O.’s Network is expected to facilitate greater employment of people with disabilities, it still has a long way to go. In India, the need of the hour is not just for companies to come out and do their bit proactively but also for the Government to come out with stringent anti-discrimination policies. Until that happens, we will continue seeing the same Wipro or Infosys or MphasiS at every forum – a picture that needs to change and change fast.
Click here to read the full report of this meeting.(Word - 6.23 MB)