Why the fuss over disability employment?


Readers of the Australian Financial Review might have noticed over the past few weeks a number of articles on the subject of disability employment that make reference to AHRI.

Let me give you a brief background.  Back in August AHRI joined with the Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, and the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, in calling on the ASX Corporate Governance Council to recommend that ASX listed companies report annually on what their members are doing about employing Australians with a disability.

We did not call for hard-line quotas. Rather we asked the ASX Governance Council to do for disability employment what it’s done for gender equity. While our approach is merely a call for a ‘recommendation’ to report, we believe that such a light-touch intervention has the potential to change the game.

This is why: A recommendation to report means that publicly listed ASX companies need to state what they’ve done, if anything, by way of drafting policies, implementing practices or recruiting people from the disability employment cohort of the Australian population. There is no requirement to have done anything but there is a requirement to report on the basis of “if not, why not”.  Boards would need to consider making the recommended action a KPI for the CEO, an action that would result in knock-on KPIs down the management line.

That would in turn bring about a significant change in company behaviour. At AHRI we have the benefit of member responses to surveys we conducted in 2008 and 2011 on this issue, so we have access to data that reveals most organisations are unaware of the imperatives that relate to disability and employment, and to put it crudely, most organisations don’t want to know and see no reason why the matter should bother them.

So what are those imperatives? And why should business bother with them?

I’d like to answer the first of those questions by stating that simply being a good corporate citizen is not one of the imperatives. I hasten to add that contributing positively to the society of which a business enterprise is part, is undoubtedly the right thing to do and may also be good for business. But it’s not the chief reason for AHRI’s involvement in the area.

The central issue that has driven our engagement goes back to 2004 when the Treasurer Peter Costello delivered a speech notable for one dominant theme: ‘welfare-to work’. Its pivotal message was that national prosperity was suffering from a productivity malaise, the genesis of which was a two-part problem. The first part was that a large proportion of the population who could be active participants in the workforce were not working. That contributed to a significant loss of potential revenue through uncollectable tax receipts. It also negatively affected total factor productivity and was harmful to the national economy. The second part was that a considerable number of those Australians, around 800,000 in round numbers, were drawing disability support pensions (DSPs) from the Australian welfare system. That number consisted of Australians who suffered from a permanent or temporary disability but were officially looking for work. In summary, the issue was identified by the then Treasurer as an economic problem that was deemed worthy of its own budget theme.

It’s now nine years after that Costello budget and 2013 is now almost upon us. So what‘s happened in the interim?  The short answer is nothing.  Australians who collect DSPs and are looking for work still number in the magnitude of 800,000+, significantly more than the 637,000 on unemployment benefits.  Around $9.5 billion is spent by government on DSPs each year and billions more are spent on government-funded disability support services designed to get participants ‘job-ready’. In 2004 around 68,000 people enrolled in those services. At last count this year, 170,000 participated.  That looks like success of sorts. But the test of success finally is moving people from DSPs into jobs, and that largely continues not to happen. So the stoppers are not government inactivity or lacklustre motivation of job-seekers.  The stopper is employer engagement, a conclusion our research confirms.  Through no fault of their own, employers with a few exceptions are either unaware of the issue or regard it as none of their business.

AHRI is of the view that it’s the business of everyone and in that we are in agreement with the likes of the Business Council of Australia and others, including former Future Fund chairman David Murray who drove the point home on the ABC’s 7.30 Report recently. Murray identified the two-part malaise I’ve just described and called it the slippery road on which Greece now sits. There may be a touch of overreach in that comparison but it’s an indication of the seriousness with which the matter appears to be viewed in some high-level business quarters.

We will persist in our approach to the ASX Corporate Governance Council and I will keep you posted.

I would also appreciate any feedback from readers.

Lyn Goodear is the chief executive officer of the Australian Human Resources Institute and a member of the Employment Participation Minister’s Disability Employment Services Reference Group.

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Patrick McInerney
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Patrick McInerney

The importance of ‘work’ – of having a job – cannot be underestimated. It gives us meaning and purpose in our daily lives, a social network of people we can relate to, connectivity to the rest of society, a sense of belonging, an entitlement to participate in the rest of things that society takes for granted such as personal relationships, further education, taking out loans, having a credit card, getting new clothes, more secure accommodation and a degree of financial security. These things all contribute to the overall well being of our community – better physical and mental health outcomes… Read more »

Mario
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Mario

Hi Lynn- As a ex HR practioneer working in South Africa and in the Middle east and living in Australia now – I feel the way a country treat the vulnerable parts of society will reflect the attitudes of the society. In South Africa there is laws forcing employers to employ people with disabilities – if it was not for these laws and penalties I do not think you would have the same immediate impact of change. Change will happen if we keep talking about it but the progress might be slow without actual measurements In a country like Australia… Read more »

Frank W.
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Frank W.

I agree with your premise that this needs a top down approach, like many others I’ve tried to influence this from the middle, but without the drive from the top the progress at best is too slow.

matt parker
Guest
matt parker

Thank you for this conversation. I am a consumer of disability services and an advocate for diversity management and the responsibility associatiated with this. Having being in theworkforce for over 20 years I along with many many public servants face a second redundancy and a fear of getting back in that all important workforce. The disabled are competing with everyone else but we need to be given the platform to prove our worth. I know that this will lead to an amazing improvement in satisfaction on the job and vastly improved productivity;- see beyond what you see before you; embrace… Read more »

More on HRM

Why the fuss over disability employment?


Readers of the Australian Financial Review might have noticed over the past few weeks a number of articles on the subject of disability employment that make reference to AHRI.

Let me give you a brief background.  Back in August AHRI joined with the Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, and the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, in calling on the ASX Corporate Governance Council to recommend that ASX listed companies report annually on what their members are doing about employing Australians with a disability.

We did not call for hard-line quotas. Rather we asked the ASX Governance Council to do for disability employment what it’s done for gender equity. While our approach is merely a call for a ‘recommendation’ to report, we believe that such a light-touch intervention has the potential to change the game.

This is why: A recommendation to report means that publicly listed ASX companies need to state what they’ve done, if anything, by way of drafting policies, implementing practices or recruiting people from the disability employment cohort of the Australian population. There is no requirement to have done anything but there is a requirement to report on the basis of “if not, why not”.  Boards would need to consider making the recommended action a KPI for the CEO, an action that would result in knock-on KPIs down the management line.

That would in turn bring about a significant change in company behaviour. At AHRI we have the benefit of member responses to surveys we conducted in 2008 and 2011 on this issue, so we have access to data that reveals most organisations are unaware of the imperatives that relate to disability and employment, and to put it crudely, most organisations don’t want to know and see no reason why the matter should bother them.

So what are those imperatives? And why should business bother with them?

I’d like to answer the first of those questions by stating that simply being a good corporate citizen is not one of the imperatives. I hasten to add that contributing positively to the society of which a business enterprise is part, is undoubtedly the right thing to do and may also be good for business. But it’s not the chief reason for AHRI’s involvement in the area.

The central issue that has driven our engagement goes back to 2004 when the Treasurer Peter Costello delivered a speech notable for one dominant theme: ‘welfare-to work’. Its pivotal message was that national prosperity was suffering from a productivity malaise, the genesis of which was a two-part problem. The first part was that a large proportion of the population who could be active participants in the workforce were not working. That contributed to a significant loss of potential revenue through uncollectable tax receipts. It also negatively affected total factor productivity and was harmful to the national economy. The second part was that a considerable number of those Australians, around 800,000 in round numbers, were drawing disability support pensions (DSPs) from the Australian welfare system. That number consisted of Australians who suffered from a permanent or temporary disability but were officially looking for work. In summary, the issue was identified by the then Treasurer as an economic problem that was deemed worthy of its own budget theme.

It’s now nine years after that Costello budget and 2013 is now almost upon us. So what‘s happened in the interim?  The short answer is nothing.  Australians who collect DSPs and are looking for work still number in the magnitude of 800,000+, significantly more than the 637,000 on unemployment benefits.  Around $9.5 billion is spent by government on DSPs each year and billions more are spent on government-funded disability support services designed to get participants ‘job-ready’. In 2004 around 68,000 people enrolled in those services. At last count this year, 170,000 participated.  That looks like success of sorts. But the test of success finally is moving people from DSPs into jobs, and that largely continues not to happen. So the stoppers are not government inactivity or lacklustre motivation of job-seekers.  The stopper is employer engagement, a conclusion our research confirms.  Through no fault of their own, employers with a few exceptions are either unaware of the issue or regard it as none of their business.

AHRI is of the view that it’s the business of everyone and in that we are in agreement with the likes of the Business Council of Australia and others, including former Future Fund chairman David Murray who drove the point home on the ABC’s 7.30 Report recently. Murray identified the two-part malaise I’ve just described and called it the slippery road on which Greece now sits. There may be a touch of overreach in that comparison but it’s an indication of the seriousness with which the matter appears to be viewed in some high-level business quarters.

We will persist in our approach to the ASX Corporate Governance Council and I will keep you posted.

I would also appreciate any feedback from readers.

Lyn Goodear is the chief executive officer of the Australian Human Resources Institute and a member of the Employment Participation Minister’s Disability Employment Services Reference Group.

9
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Patrick McInerney
Guest
Patrick McInerney

The importance of ‘work’ – of having a job – cannot be underestimated. It gives us meaning and purpose in our daily lives, a social network of people we can relate to, connectivity to the rest of society, a sense of belonging, an entitlement to participate in the rest of things that society takes for granted such as personal relationships, further education, taking out loans, having a credit card, getting new clothes, more secure accommodation and a degree of financial security. These things all contribute to the overall well being of our community – better physical and mental health outcomes… Read more »

Mario
Guest
Mario

Hi Lynn- As a ex HR practioneer working in South Africa and in the Middle east and living in Australia now – I feel the way a country treat the vulnerable parts of society will reflect the attitudes of the society. In South Africa there is laws forcing employers to employ people with disabilities – if it was not for these laws and penalties I do not think you would have the same immediate impact of change. Change will happen if we keep talking about it but the progress might be slow without actual measurements In a country like Australia… Read more »

Frank W.
Guest
Frank W.

I agree with your premise that this needs a top down approach, like many others I’ve tried to influence this from the middle, but without the drive from the top the progress at best is too slow.

matt parker
Guest
matt parker

Thank you for this conversation. I am a consumer of disability services and an advocate for diversity management and the responsibility associatiated with this. Having being in theworkforce for over 20 years I along with many many public servants face a second redundancy and a fear of getting back in that all important workforce. The disabled are competing with everyone else but we need to be given the platform to prove our worth. I know that this will lead to an amazing improvement in satisfaction on the job and vastly improved productivity;- see beyond what you see before you; embrace… Read more »

More on HRM