Enabling inclusion through employment

It is by this Government’s design, rather than by mere fate, that we decided to encourage companies to create greater employment opportunities for vulnerable groups in Malta and Gozo

What was it, if not fate, that destined that the historic Budget 2015 announcement of a significant ‘Fairer Society’ measure, aimed at enforcing a previously mothballed circa 50 year old legislation granting persons with disability their right to gainful occupation, was made on the very day that the mortal remains of the supremely able Lino Spiteri were returned to the bowels of this earth?

Despite his having risen to the topmost peak of this nation’s economic industriousness, Lino was never reluctant to recall the challenges of his first working experience as a teacher when the headmaster of his first-assigned public school complained openly to the Education Department that he would have preferred a ‘fully able’ employee rather than ‘this one-armed youngster’ who would be of no use when class maintenance or Christmas decorating was required.

Allow me, therefore, as both a long-time ministerial colleague and as the incumbent Minister for Education to state, with even more voice than that headmaster’s, that it is by this Government’s design, rather than by mere fate, that we decided to encourage companies to create greater employment opportunities for vulnerable groups in Malta and Gozo.

While the Equal Opportunities and ‘Employment Quotas for Disabled Persons’ Acts remain as legal requirements that should safeguard and promote the inclusion of persons with a disability, mental health problems, ex-offenders and similar marginalized and vulnerable groups , the need is felt  for greater support, empowerment, training and understanding of the complexities that these issues bring; proactive support  is paramount to such citizens’ increased rightful participation in the nation’s economic activities.

The ultimate objective is to raise the percentage of vulnerable persons in some form of gainful occupation from the past, shamefully low percentage rate of 5% to the much higher present Central European levels, which vary between 40 and  50%. The target is enforcement of the 2% quota by every employer of a workforce that numbers 20 or over; monetary contributions are intended solely as a temporary alternative to direct employment, which remains a legal requirement.

While this ‘Fairer Society’ initiative is clearly PL-propelled, in accordance with its 2012/3 pre-election foresight and promises, I feel heartened by the following past declarations to appeal for both cross-Party and widespread individual employer consensus on this measure.

In the Times of Malta issue of 06/02/13, the then PN deputy leader, Simon Busuttil declared that a future PN Government would ‘raise the minimum rate of people with a disability working with the public sector from two per cent to four per cent’ (a mere ‘act of charity’ that would not grant the dignity of participation  in productive  industriousness?).

And in the run up to the European Parliament elections, Stefano Mallia admitted that ‘as an employer myself and as a person proud to be hailing from the private sector, I am today acutely aware that maybe the private sector is not doing enough for the less fortunate’.

Besides, the much more experienced than either of the above two, Helga Ellul is quoted in her own May, 2013 article as having said that ‘The State has an obligation to provide such support to an extent, while a sense of corporate responsibility should drive the private sector to support and invest in the training of potential employees in order to create equal opportunities for all’.  Well said, dear colleagues… we are doing all that and much more for the weakest among ourselves.

Indeed, the National Employment Policy, which we published last May promised:

1. New fiscal incentives to attract employers to provide open market jobs for persons with disability – activated in National Budget 2015 through tax credits.

2. Preferential treatment through public procurement regulations aimed at positively discriminating in favour of social cooperatives employing vulnerable persons – activated in National budget 2015 through a proposed Document Management project in Gozo.

3. Employment supported by job coaches – activated by National Budget 2015 through contributions from ‘Quota defaulters’.

4. Various sheltered Workshops – training course for first 150 persons with intellectual disability started in July in Mtarfa.

This Labour Government holistically and myself as Minister for Education and Employment, are justifiably very proud to be making history in the sphere of inclusive employment in Malta.