Activist says more must be done for disabled
Disabled people will need more protection in the workplace in the wake of a Budget sweetener to boost their employment prospects, a leading campaigner warned yesterday.
LaKiesha Wolffe welcomed the Budget announcement that the employer portion of payroll tax for disabled employees would be cut.
Ms Wolffe, who lost a leg four years ago, said the incentive had to be backed up with tougher rules and enforcement of existing laws to stop disabled employees being exploited.
She said: “It's definitely a great idea and it's an incentive for the actual company. I just think something else has to go behind it in order to support it in the right way and for it to work.”
Ms Wolffe said the move did not go far enough to help a part of the population that needs more assistance.
She added: “I think there has to be a little more put into it so that companies are fair. If we do get hired, are we going to be treated fairly?
“If I'm supposed to make $17 an hour as a customer service representative, am I going to make $17 an hour or is the company going to try to exploit that?”
Ms Wolffe said disabled people had enough problems finding work and that discrimination against the disabled was rife in Bermuda.
She added: “I've been handicapped for four years and in four years, I've had two discrimination cases.”
Ms Wolffe also called for employers to make sure there were proper facilities and appropriate health insurance policies in place.
She said: “All handicapped workers have to be treated fairly, you have to go by the book, your company has to have the proper handicapped facilities or you need to meet the needs of a handicapped person.
“If I come to work, yes, I can stand up but I can't stand up for eight hours straight like most people.
“So if you're going to hire me so you can get this free payroll tax, if I have to sit down for 20 minutes every two hours then that has to be allowed.”
Ms Wolffe warned there was a risk that “people are just going to use this to save money” and not to offer opportunities to Bermuda's disabled population.
She was speaking after David Burt, the Premier and finance minister, announced that payroll tax would be eliminated for employers who hire disabled people.
He said: “This Government recognises the challenges that persons with disability in Bermuda face and as a society we have a long way to go in ensuring that they can enjoy a decent quality of life.
“To assist persons with disability in gaining access to employment and to reward those employers who have already hired disabled Bermudians, we will eliminate the employer portion of payroll tax for any disabled employee.”
The move was welcomed by Keith Jensen, president and chairman of the Bermuda Employers Council, who predicted it would help people with disabilities find jobs.
He said: “I believe it is the first time employers will experience a tax reduction for having hired disabled Bermudians and it will be welcomed as a tangible recognition of the firm's social commitment.”
Mr Jensen said some employers may need time to provide adequate training and supervision for disabled people, as well as suitable positions.
He added that employers would also have to look at the Human Rights Act provisions on employment and probationary periods.
A spokeswoman for Bermuda Hospitals Board said: “In a recent independent survey, Bermuda employers chose ‘reduction in government taxes' as the preferred incentive to hiring persons with disabilities.
“BHB hopes this move results in a significant increase in the numbers of job opportunities for this segment of the community.”
The spokeswoman said the benefits of work were the same for people with and without disabilities and included financial security and the development of a wide range of relationships.
Chrissie Kempe, executive director at charity WindReach, said she was “thrilled” to see the Government recognise “the valuable contributions that individuals of all abilities bring to the table”.
She said: “Individuals with a disability should be supported, encouraged and have the same opportunities in the workplace as everybody else.
Ms Kempe added: “Individuals living with a disability should also be afforded the positive benefits of employment, which extend beyond the financial reward to include independence, self-confidence, social engagement and improved overall wellness.”
She said: “This item on the Budget marks a significant step forward for Bermuda.”