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Businesses facing labour shortages have been urged to hire more disabled people, and take advantage of workplace benefits and new government assistance that some employers are already exploiting.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has said it is critical to engage employers in reforms through initiatives such as the Employer Roundtable for People with Disabilities, in which representatives from Australian organisations such as IBM, Westpac and Sara Lee work together to create more positions for the disabled.

The former Minister for Workforce Participation, Dr Sharman Stone (now the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), says, “An OECD report shows Australia is lagging behind many countries when it comes to employing people with a disability. Only 41.9 per cent of the total population with a disability in the 20 to 64 years bracket are employed in Australia.”

According to the Australian Employers' Network on Disability's Opportunity booklet, "attracting, recruiting and retaining people with disability can provide a significant and often overlooked opportunity for business, and a solution to Australia's skills crisis." The publication highlights that disability is more common than most people think: "The Australian Burea of Statistics defines a person as having disability if they have one or more impairments that impact on their daily life and lasts for six months or longer. The key aspect is not the impairment, but its effect."

Human resource specialist Brian Yates, manager for disability employment services at First Contact Human Resources, a federally funded not-for-profit employment agency, said businesses needed to be educated on the capabilities of disabled people before they would start hiring them.

“Many employers are scared of employing people with disabilities and there's a part of society in general seems to take a very stereotypical view of people with a disability based on media portrayals or limited personal exposure to a person with a disability,” he says.

“In reality, people with a disability cannot be pigeon-holed into any particular type of job. There are people with varying levels of ability and skill and the critical factor is matching the right person to the right job.”

Sue Hughes, operator of Subway franchises on the Central Coast, said 12 of her 50 employees had a disability but all had “real jobs”.

“I am a firm believer of paying our people with a disability the same as we pay all our other trainees and we're not frightened to move people on if they aren't suited either,” she says.

“The reason we've had so much success is that we treat them like ordinary people and they just keep giving back.

“Staff turnover is minimal, absenteeism doesn't exist with these people and one of the biggest incentives is the positive effect on staff morale.”

While initial costs in recruitment and training appeared steep, Hughes says it pays off in the long term.

“It's smart business,” she says.

Published on: Tuesday, August 04, 2009

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