Government Called on to Employ More People With Disability in Public Service
26 March 2018 at 11:00 am
The federal government has been urged to show leadership and get more people with disability working in the Australian Public Service, after three state governments recently announced public service disability employment targets.
In 2017, just 3.6 per cent of Australian Public Service (APS) employees identified as having a disability, compared to 6.6 per cent in 1986.
While there are no employment targets in place for public servants at a federal level, state governments in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales recently announced targets to increase the employment of people with a disability in the public sector.
In February, Victoria announced a public service disability employment target of 6 per cent by 2020, as part of an economic participation plan for people with disability.
“Like anyone else, people with a disability can work, and want to work – yet many Victorians still face barriers to entering the workforce,” Victorian disability minister Martin Foley said.
“We are charting a path to change – and we all need to grab the opportunity to deliver for some of the most vulnerable in our community.”
Vision 2020 Australia – which advocates for the blind and vision impaired – has urged the federal government to show leadership by implementing a disability employment target of 7 per cent for the APS by 2023.
CEO Carla Northam lauded the action taken by the Victorian, NSW and Queensland governments.
“Access to meaningful employment free from discrimination is a fundamental human right for all Australians,” Northam said.
“People with disability have a range of skills, capabilities and interests to bring to the workforce. Setting specific measurable targets and establishing a plan to meet them is an effective way to improve disability inclusion in the workplace; improving accountability and transparency.”
Vision 2020 Australia released a position statement in October 2017, calling for meaningful employment for people with disability in the APS.
It noted that for the nearly one in seven working aged Australians living with a disability, the workforce participation rate was just 53.4 per cent, compared to 83.2 per cent for the rest of the population.
It said that there had also been a decline of people with disability in the APS workforce.
“While the [APS] is a major employer across Australia, there has been a consistent decline in the inclusion of people who identify as having a disability in the APS workforce, from 6.6 per cent in 1986, down to 4.1 per cent in 2005 [and] 3.74 per cent in 2016,” the statement said.
“People with disability have a range of skills, capabilities and interests to bring to the workforce. Supporting workplace diversity, leads to increased representation of people with disability in the public and private sector workforce and improves effectiveness and productivity.
“As an important first step, direct leadership by the Australian government will work to diminish the negative assumptions and pervasive stereotypes surrounding people with disability that continue to contribute to discriminatory employment practices.”
Added to the employment target, the position statement also called for the government to implement an APS disability internship initiative, make the government’s RecruitAbility scheme mandatory across all APS agencies, and ensure recruitment processes, information and ICT policies were accessible for people with a disability.
Vision 2020 Australia’s policy and advocacy manager Danielle Williams, told Pro Bono News that the federal government needed to show leadership on this issue, to give greater visibility to people with disability.
“It’s really the responsibility of our governments to be showing that direct leadership when it comes to private sector and public sector employers, to diminish the negative perceptions of people with disability when trying to access employment,” Williams said.
“Part of the problem of people not being able to gain entry into a different sector of employment, is the perception that they are not able to do the job.
“Taking on that leadership and demonstrating role also raises the visibility of people with disability in employment, whereas now they remain invisible.”
Williams said the 7 per cent employment target was about getting employment numbers for people with disability back on an upwards trend.
“The reason we’ve gone with that 7 per cent target is because it was close to that nearly 30 years ago in 1986,” she said.
“So what we’re looking to do is to really reinstate where the Australian Public Service was 30 years ago. But also it will double the efforts of where we were in 2016.”
She added that having more employees with disability in the APS would also be beneficial for the workforce as a whole.
“What we’ve seen is diversity in workplaces serves to really to break down any stereotypes or negative perceptions people have about ability or capability,” Williams said.
“So purely by having more representation in the public sector, it maximises the opportunity for people to encounter a diverse range of skills and abilities. And in particular we’re seeing a lot of public policy particularly around disability really focusing on the lived experience.
“So even though this isn’t just about disability employment around disability agencies like the NDIA, the very fact that you’d be injecting lived experience into the public sector would only serve to improve any policies developed out of a government agency.”
The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), which develops APS employment policies and practices, confirmed to Pro Bono News that the APS “does not currently have mandated targets for the number of people with disability employed across the sector”.
APSC said that as of June 2017, 3.6 per cent of APS employees identified as having a disability, but noted there were number of measures in place to try and increase these figures.
“The Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2016 allow agencies to apply an affirmative measure and the RecruitAbility Scheme to job vacancies. These legislative measures are designed to assist people with disability gain employment in the APS,” an APSC spokesperson said.
“The APSC is currently piloting a centralised recruitment stream for people with disability into APS Graduate Programs using this affirmative measure.
“The APSC continues to work closely with agencies to assist them develop their capability when recruiting, developing and supporting people with disability, in line with the As One: Making it Happen, APS Disability Employment Strategy 2016-19.”
The Department of Social Services also has measures in place to try and increase the representation of people with disability in the workforce.
A DSS spokesperson told Pro Bono News that 10.7 per cent of the DSS workforce identified as having a disability.
“The Department has a Disability Workforce Action Plan which has a number of initiatives focused on increasing the representation of people with disability working in the department,” the spokesperson said.
“[These include] participating in RecruitAbility for vacancies; providing disability awareness and confidence training packages for supervisors and individuals involved in recruitment and selection processes; continuing support to participate in entry level disability programmes; and creating an inclusive and accessible working environment for people with disability.”