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Sobering employment rate of persons with disabilities to be examined

Wheelchair disabled person works as a barista in an inclusive coffee shop.
Photo: Dreamstime

Business leaders from ASX 100 companies, the public sector, unions, regulators and legal centres will appear at a five day hearing on employment as the Disability Royal Commission examines why Australia’s employment of people with disability is so low.

Public hearing 19, the second hearing on employment, will investigate what employers are doing to build inclusive workplaces and address systemic barriers to employment experienced by people with disability and will be held from 22-26 November 2021 starting at 10.00 am AEDT.

There is limited employment data collected, and the available data shows consistently low levels of labour force participation for people with disability in Australian workplaces. Only 53.4% (or 1 million) of working-aged people with disability participate in the labour force[i], and are twice as likely as those without disability to be unemployed[ii].

Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC stated in Public hearing 9 ‘the statistics relating to workforce participation of people with disability are sobering…..Australia has one of the lowest employment rates for people with disability in the OECD.’

It is estimated that the economic benefits of employing people with disability would add over $50 billion to GDP by 2050 – but only if Australia were to move up into the top eight OECD countries for employment of people with disability[iii].

This hearing follows on from Public hearing 9, when people with disability told the Royal Commission about their employment experiences of finding and keeping a job, the barriers they regularly encounter in the workforce (such as discrimination and a failure to provide reasonable adjustments) and what should be done to overcome them.

Over forty witnesses will appear including Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia, Graeme Innes AM former Disability Discrimination Commissioner and business leaders from McDonalds, Woolworths, Kmart, NAB, Medibank and Lendlease.

The issues to be examined include:

  • experiences of people with disability in obtaining and retaining employment
  • the efficacy of the Australian Government’s overarching strategy in relation to increasing the employment of people with disability in safe and inclusive jobs
  • reasonable adjustments in the workplace, including policies and processes for provision of adjustments
    what employers are doing to build inclusive workplaces, promote employment opportunities and support career advancement for people with disability
  • data collection, accountability and reporting by public and private sector employers
  • what workplace regulators are doing to provide information, resources and support to employers and people with disability in relation to employment issues
  • the operation of laws and institutions intended to protect people with disability at work, including anti-discrimination and employment law frameworks.

Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC will preside over the hearing along with Commissioner Rhonda Galbally AC and Commissioner John Ryan AM.
Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, Kate Eastman AM SC, will appear alongside Ms Elizabeth Bennett SC and Ms Cathy Dowsett.

Public hearing 19 will be closed to the public because of COVID-19, but will be live-streamed on the Royal Commission website and include live captioning and Auslan-English interpreters.

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