Within the framework of the V Accessibility Week, which is held from May 15 to 21 in Minsk and coordinated by the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, ODB Brussels (Belgium) and Social Business Technologies organized a round table on employment of people with disabilities in Belarus. On May 16, representatives of state structures, non-commercial and public organizations, and social entrepreneurs from Minsk, Svetlahorsk and Stolin came together to discuss existing problems and possible solutions.
There are no exact statistics on employment of people with disabilities in Belarus, so, although much has been done already to help this category of people find work, there are still a lot of issues to be resolved. According to the National Statistical Committee, in 2015 about 16% of working people over 18 years of age had lived with a disability.
Representatives of civil society organizations say that in the past two years the situation has worsened. Out of all people with disabilities who contact them, two-thirds need help finding employment, because the average disability pension in the country is only 120-150 roubles. For these people, getting a job is an opportunity not just to receive additional income and improve their standard of living, but also to socialize, acquire new skills and feel needed and useful to their relatives and society.
Barriers to employment
Aleh Hrableusky, lawyer for the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, spoke out during the first part of the round table. According to him, it is now more convenient for people with disabilities to conceal this fact whenever possible than to find employers who would give them a job. Last month, when the Job Fair was held in the capital, it was difficult for people with disabilities to find job offers, and even if such options were available, the salary was not more than 250 roubles.
Aleh Hrableusky, lawyer for the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities
When a person goes through medical examination and learns that they have a disability, the medical report will often say they are unfit for work. However, in most cases that is actually not true: they can still perform certain types of work. However, getting such a medical certificate is a serious demotivating factor for people with a disability. Faced with the market realities, they would rather live on their small disability allowance than continue to look for a job. It is not just the government or social entrepreneurs that should create jobs for this category of citizens, they can also take some steps independently.
Yury Lyaschenka, Head of Svetlahorsk Inter-District Organization of the Republican Association of Wheelchair Users, cited some positive examples of self-employment. He says that if a person with disability registers as an individual entrepreneur, they can work from home as a dispatcher or a tutor in various fields, paying the self-employment tax at a reduced rate of just 25%.
Yury Lyaschenka, Head of Svetlahorsk Inter-District Organization of the Republican Association of Wheelchair Users
How social entrepreneurship can help
Valery Zhurakousky, representative of ACT International Educational Non-Governmental Organization, spoke about the development of social entrepreneurship in Belarus. The phenomenon itself existed back in the XX century, but the term has only appeared recently, and now people are discussing how a social business can help different categories of people, including people with disabilities.
Valery Zhurakousky, ACT
Social companies in the private sector often employ people with disabilities, but in terms of their legal status, in Belarus these companies are equivalent to regular businesses. Natallia Ampleyeva, who manages a private company called “Art Idea”, noted during the round table that, in the recent years, problems have become more and more numerous.
Natallia Ampleyeva (third from the left), Head of Art Idea
Under current legislation, enterprises employing people with disabilities pay reduced contributions to the Social Protection Fund, but only provided that people with disabilities make up more than 50% of their staff. However, as social entrepreneurs note, it is quite difficult to compete with other companies that provide the same services but employ people without disabilities. A disabled person needs more time to perform a task, which increases the cost of production. Social entrepreneurs do not ask the state for money, but say openly that additional benefits would not hurt: abolition or reduction of VAT, assistance in paying utility bills or loans for social business on special terms.
Salman Rashad, Acting Director of “Way to Life” (“Doroga v Zhizn”) company from Stolin, says that their sewing workshop that employs people with disabilities is on the verge of closure. They need to relocate the sewing workshop as an apartment building is constructed next to their premises. Local authorities offered them new premises but ask them to pay rent in full. At the moment, the enterprise can not afford to pay rent as it operates at a loss.
Salman Rashad, Acting Director of “Way to Life” (Stolin)
According to Salman Rashad, just a few years ago, the workshop had a steady stream of orders from a local hospital. However, a decree was issued establishing that state companies must only place orders to other state companies. Left without a serious regular customer, the company had to cut staff, switch to a three-day working week and stop participating in fairs and exhibitions.
Dzmitry Klimkovich, Head of Minsk company “Essential Capital” (“Tsenny Kapital”), shared that employers now have no incentives to employ people with disabilities, only their personal motivation. “When an entrepreneur understands the problem, comes to it face to face somehow, she or he begins to view it differently. Unfortunately, they have no economic incentives to do this at the moment”.
Dzmitry Klimkovich, Head of "Essential Capital” (Minsk)
At the end, participants of the round table heard from Raisa Sinelnikava, expert on social issues. She focused on an important matter: so far, no exact data has been gathered about the number of people with disabilities who want to find employment, because it is not always possible to find workers to fill job vacancies reserved by the state.
Raisa Sinelnikova, expert on social issues.
Problems of people with disabilities are problems of the whole society. Unfortunately, since the Soviet times, people with disabilities have been treated as sick people who are unfit for work and need to hide from society instead of seeking opportunities for socialization. To change the situation, we have to start with ourselves and gradually change the perceptions of society.
Text by: Valerya Mikalaychyk
The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.
The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.