Workers with disabilities still face employment integration problems and discrimination

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Disabled people in France are benefiting from the improved employment situation considerably less than other workers. In spite of legislation on employment quotas, their integration into the mainstream workforce has been limited, while they are often subject to discrimination, particularly in employment. This feature provides an overview of the situation of workers with disabilities in early 2001.

Disabled workers have benefited from the improved employment situation in France in recent years. Over 40,000 people with disabilities are estimated to have been recruited in 2000. In 1999, the number of disabled unemployed people dropped for the first time in 15 years, and this downward trend continued in 2000. However, statistics reveal very little of the difficulties that people with disabilities face in finding a job. They are unemployed for twice as long as their non-disabled counterparts.

Limited integration into mainstream employment

The law of 10 July 1987 requires all private and state-run organisations with a workforce of over 20 to employ a quota of 6% of workers with disabilities and similar people. However, the direct employment of disabled workers by the companies covered by this legislation has remained stable at around 4% for several years. In 1998, private and state-owned companies with a workforce of over 20 employed 219,500 disabled workers and the civil service employed 160,000. In the same year, of those companies targeted by the legislation, 37% employed no disabled workers, while 19% instead paid a contribution to the jointly-managed Association for the Management of Funds for the Vocational Integration of Disabled People (Association de Gestion du Fonds pour l'Insertion Professionnelle des personnes handicapées, AGEFIPH), combined with indirect employment through sheltered employment schemes. Consequently, over 50% of companies get around the legal quota requirement. In spite of the fact that the 1987 legislation provides for the possibility of negotiating sector- or company-level collective agreements on the issue of employment quotas, the social partners have made only limited use of this mechanism (with only two sectoral agreements and around 100 company-level agreements signed).

In the early 1990s, after years of focusing on the development of sheltered job schemes, associations of disabled peoples began to promote disabled employment in the mainstream labour force. For example, the Adapt association organised its fourth disabled employment week from 13-19 November 2000. This awareness-raising week was designed to involve the media and heads of industry and to "show that it is possible and rewarding to hire workers with disabilities". In 1999, the Adapt disabled employment week led to 2,435 jobs being promised for disabled workers, which translated into 1,200 actual employment contracts. In 2000, 550 companies promised to hire over 3,000 disabled workers.

Scale of employment discrimination

Since the implementation of the law of 12 July 1990 protecting individuals against health- or disability-based discrimination, it is explicitly forbidden to discriminate against disabled workers in terms of recruitment, disciplinary sanctions or redundancy, except where an industrial doctor deems the individual unfit for work. However, in a statement issued on 5 May 2000, the National Advisory Committee on Human Rights (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l'homme) underscored the fact that people with disabilities continue to be subject to all kinds of discrimination. Two major aspects of this inequality are education and access to employment.

A survey conducted by the CFDT trade union confederation between February and July 2000 (Les personnes handicapées au travail. Intégrées mais pas égales[Disabled people at Work. Integrated but not equal]) was one of the first of its kind focusing on disabled workers' perception of their jobs. The survey, which polled 1,500 workers in 300 separate companies, revealed that a substantial percentage of people with disabilities feel that they have been subject to discrimination in terms of career development, with 31% believing that their disability has held back the development of their career, and 28% believing that their career has advanced very little. However, 41%, particularly civil servants, believe that their career has developed normally. Some disabled workers consider they have been discriminated against in terms of job content (22%), job transfers (27%), access to decision-making positions (27%), promotion (32%) and wage increases (32%).

Job adaptation is a problem. The CFDT survey found that for one disabled worker in five, little or no effort has been made to adapt their position to their needs. Indeed, those workers who become disabled after they were hired find it even more difficult to have their jobs satisfactorily adapted. Their remaining in employment is still problematic. While 46% have kept their positions, 18% were forced to fight for reinstatement. Indeed, 44% say that they are unsatisfied with the terms of their return to work.

Government policy

More effort was made during the 1990s to boost employment among disabled people, including: an overhaul of the Technical Disability Guidance and Regrading Commissions (Commissions techniques d'orientation et de reclassement professionnel, COTOREP); efforts by AGEFIPH to develop and operate specialised bodies promoting employment insertion and placement; and the creation of département-level Disabled Employment Programmes (Programmes départementaux d'insertion des travailleurs handicapés, PDITH), to coordinate the policies of the various bodies involved. Indeed, since the early 1990s, disabled workers have been priority beneficiaries of some specific employment-assistance measures.

The 1998 National Action Plan on employment (in response to the EU Employment Guidelines) placed renewed emphasis on the integration of disabled people into the labour force through direct employment. In December 1998, the government signed a five-year objectives-based agreement (1998-2003) with AGEFIPH and a one-off three-year programme (1999-2001) targeting long-term and young unemployed people with disabilities. The PDITHs were implemented across the board. Employment and placement body staffing was increased. Extra training places were created. The National Employment Agency (Agence nationale pour l'emploi, ANPE) is to offer support to 180,000 disabled job-seekers over the next three years under the "fresh start for jobs" (nouveau départ pour l'emploi) programme. In 1999, some 60,000 disabled workers benefited from this programme. The same target was set for 2000. Around a further 80,000 people with disabilities were offered a subsidised contract within the framework of the government's employment policy.

In an attempt to increase the employment of people with disabilities in the state civil service, a inter-ministerial employment assistance fund was set up in 1999 to support job adaptation and various related measures.

Policies in favour of the employment of people with disabilities are part of a comprehensive policy to promote their access to mainstream life. On 25 January 2000, the Prime Minister announced the launch of the "Plan for the access of disabled people into the mainstream of life" (Plan pour l'accès des personnes handicapées au milieu de vie ordinaire) 2001-3. This follows on from the National Education Ministry's "Handiscol plan", which was launched in 1999, with aim of doubling the number of disabled students in the mainstream education system.

Positions of relevant organisations

Both Adapt and the National Federation of Disabled People and Victims of Workplace Accidents (Fédération nationale des accidentés du travail et des handicapés, FNATH) demand that those companies failing to employ disabled workers be more severely penalised, while in November 2000, the Association of French Paralytics (Association des paralysés de France, APF) also demanded that the 1987 legislation be strictly enforced.

Both the trade unions and employers' associations view the quota system implemented in 1987 as unsatisfactory. The attitude of state-run organisations, which fall far short of meeting their quota requirements, come in for particularly strong criticism. Apart from misgivings on the part of both employers and employees, low levels of training are seen as the main barrier to the employment of people with disabilities. Training must begin well before a disabled person reaches the labour market and the promotion of integration must begin at school level.

Following a nine-year period, during which the jointly-managed AGEFIPH was headed by a representative of the employers' associations, Rémi Jouan, a CFDT trade unionist, was elected president on 15 September 2000. He believes that "the visibility of the association's policies and programmes must be increased. This can be most effectively achieved by raising awareness of existing measures among companies not employing disabled workers".

The secretary of state for health, Dominique Gillot, used the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons in December 2000 to advocate "a genuine choice for life" and to reiterate the government's resolve to promote "disabled integration into mainstream life".

Commentary

Over the course of the past 25 years, no real policy for the integration of people with disabilities has existed, even though AGEFIPH has done much work on this issue. The change in the association's policies from 1998 onwards challenges attitudes and the whole institutional system.

Two major challenges have to be faced. First, unemployed people with disabilities lack training: 84% them are educated to no higher than vocational proficiency diploma (Brevet d'études professionnelles, BEP) or vocational aptitude certificate (Certificat d'aptitude professionnelle,CAP) level. Second, companies are not sufficiently well informed. Many are unaware of disabled recruitment and job maintenance assistance schemes and many overestimate the problems involved in hiring disabled workers. (Annie Jolivet, IRES)

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