Job quotas for disabled can help change minds

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2011, 12:00am


An enlightened government should lead in enacting laws to protect its most vulnerable citizens, and not just wait for community pressure to force it to act. It is to the credit of the Hong Kong government that, despite many objections, minimum-wage legislation was recently introduced.

Another group of people in need of stronger employment support is the disabled, very few of whom have the chance to develop the self-respect that comes from earning a wage.

Hong Kong employers - particularly in big business - are simply not stepping up, suggesting that the present voluntary approach has failed. Negative discrimination seems to be present and this can best be tackled by introducing positive discrimination legislation, with the objective of promoting equal opportunities.

In many advanced economies, particularly in Western Europe, big employers give preference to job applicants with disabilities to help them meet an assigned quota of, say, 3 or 5 per cent.

Britain's first permanent wheelchair user in Parliament, Dame Anne Begg, has said: 'Positive discrimination is necessary for democracy at work.' Indeed, as a woman, she received an extra boost in her efforts to become a member of parliament: her party chose her from a deliberately all-woman shortlist of candidates. In such ways, affirmative action (called positive discrimination in some places) can be seen to work. Having more women, and more disabled people, in Parliament makes it more representative of Britain's population as a whole.

Legislation should be enacted here to oblige each large Hong Kong employer - say, with a workforce of over 500 - to provide jobs for a minimum percentage of people with disabilities. That percentage could vary with the size of the workforce. Large companies can surely offer a number of opportunities. Furthermore, many disabled people could take on a wide variety of positions.

Firms unwilling, or unable, to allocate the minimum number of jobs to the disabled could face fines, with the money raised going towards retraining schemes for the newly disabled, such as those who go blind in middle age.

Equal Opportunities Commission chairperson Lam Woon-kwong has said that the government appears unwilling to consult the people and legislate on affirmative action. Perhaps that might change were the EOC to press for action. Certainly, the government needs to take the lead; more job opportunities for the disabled would bring them much greater independence and self-respect, as well as the respect of others. And that would contribute to a more inclusive society.

Paul Surtees is an adviser to the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind