Opinion: Participation Act

POSTED: 11/18/13 1:30 PM

With the Awareness Week for disabled citizens starting today, and with the Top Promotion Foundation / Be Able committee presentation in the Central Committee just behind us, the idea of creating employment for handicapped fellow-citizens has taken center stage once more. Parliamentarians have suggested to study Dutch legislation (and also the American Disability Act) and to use parts of it to write local legislation.

In the Netherlands, the Participation Act will shortly be discussed in parliament. The objective of this law is similar to the sentiment parliamentarians expressed last Friday in Philipsburg: more jobs for handicapped citizens. Lobby organizations for the handicapped and large employers organizations are critical of the initiative and claim that it is doomed to fail because it will sideline several groups of handicapped people.

The Dutch daily Trouw devoted an article to the topic on Saturday, that begins with the following claim: higher educated labor-handicapped people, among them the blind, the vision impaired, the deaf, the hearing impaired and the chronically ill will have a tough time finding a job once the Participation Act is implemented.

Lobby clubs and employers fear that the law will sideline tens of thousands of handicapped people, among them those with only a slight handicap.

The Participation Act is the result of the social agreement employers and unions signed this spring with the objective to deliver real jobs for handicapped people. But a side-effect of the legislation is that large groups will be sidelined because they do not fit within the rules of the law.

Lobby clubs and employers see a problem in the job guarantees employers and unions agreed upon in the spring; this agreement should help thousands of handicapped to find a job. But handicapped people who earn more than 80 percent of the minimum wage fall outside of the law. Therefore higher educated handicapped job-seekers will not be counted in the numbers employers would have to hire in the coming years. In 2014 it is about 5,000 jobs and that number will increase to 125,000 just over twelve years from now – in 2026. If employers do not hot those targets, State Secretary Kleinsma threatens with quota and with fines form employers.

One employer’s organization foresees problems at knowledge-intensive companies that will have trouble creating jobs for people with a low productivity and low education. The risk is that these companies will accept the fines and make them art of their budget. If that happens, the well-intended Participation Act becomes a dead letter. Changing the text of the draft-law to include handicapped job-seekers with a high education could prevent this scenario.

Another problem is to be found at the level of municipalities; they will become responsible as mediators to help handicapped residents fund a job. Employees at sheltered workshops are expensive and municipalities will do their best to transfer them to the private sector, rather than make the effort for higher educated unemployed handicapped people.

The end result is that well-educated handicapped job seekers will have to compete on their own with candidates without a handicap. That put them at a disadvantage. A blind employee for instance, needs at least a braille machine and employers will have to bear the cost of such an investment.

The CG-Council, a lobby organization for the chronically ill and the handicapped, warns that people with a limited earning capacity – below 50 percent of the minimum wage – will be pushed out of the job market by those with an earning capacity between 50 and 80 percent. The latter group is more attractive for employers, even though they will receive less wage-subsidy for these candidates.

The severely handicapped will be relegated to day programs – but subsidies for these activities threaten to disappear. “These people will have no chance at all to get a job under the Participation Act and they will end up behind the geraniums,” director Gert Rebergen of the
CG-Council fears.

The discussion in the Netherlands about helping handicapped citizens find a job makes clear that such initiatives are not as easy as they seem at first thought. Sint Maarten will therefore be wise to first make a solid inventory of the handicapped people in its midst before it starts looking at legislation from abroad.

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