People with disabilities still face important obstacles to access the labour market

EESC hearing analyses implementation of Directive on Equal Treatment and highlights need for increasing awareness of employers

Existing legislation has not been capable of fully addressing the impediments that people with disabilities face to find a job, as employers are frequently unaware of the benefits of employing them. This was one of the main messages of the hearing on "Employment of Persons with Disabilities", which took place last week at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels. 

In her opening speech, Irena Petraitienė, EESC President of Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights, said: "Member States should initiate dialogue with their social partners with a view to ensuring equal treatment for people with disabilities and the development of codes of conduct".

The hearing focused on what has been achieved so far in the area of the implementation of the Directive on Equal Treatment in employment and occupation (Directive 2000/78/EC), and looked at some good practices in the EU.

The directive 2000/78/EC sets out a general framework to combat discrimination of individuals in the European Union at the workplace regardless of their religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.


Need to raise awareness and provide equal access  

Participants agreed that, despite the existence of legislation addressing the rights of people with disabilities, there are still many shortcomings when it comes to the rights of people with disabilities to enter the labour market.

"Employment of disabled people on the single labour market is still at low levels", expressed Marek Plura, Member of the European Parliament. "Employers are not motivated enough to employ them, because they lack knowledge, fear extra costs and bureaucracy, and are not aware of the subsidies they can get".

This sentiment was also echoed by EESC member Linas Lasiauskas, who stressed that "employers lack information", and that there are still steps needed in the full implementation of this directive. Once taken, they "will also allow us to implement the principles of the EU".

According to Ansofie Leenknecht, from the European Disability Forum, the European legal framework is still not completed when it comes to access to transport, education, etc. of people with disabilities, and the scope of the directive should be extended.

Some participants called for the creation of an awareness campaign on the legal framework to protect the disabled people and to ensure employers are informed about the benefits in employing people with disabilities. They also called for more training programmes for these citizens to become active members of society.

A second panel introduced examples of good practices from the European Union, including representatives from different EU programmes and associations giving support to disabled people.

"All the employees have a right to a dignified workplace and a way ahead", concluded Ms. Petraitienė. "We need to focus on education, training programmes and career opportunities, as well as to fully adopt the legislation in place".

This event was linked to the work of the EESC's Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights and a fact-finding mission to Spain in April 2017 on the employment of people with disabilities.