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Disability Rights Awarness Month: link between B-BBEE and disability inclusion in the workplace

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed internationally in varying degrees around the world on 03 December. To acknowledge this and in an effort to champion the integration of people with disabilities into the workforce and promote meaningful transformation, the BEE Chamber is shedding light on the significant relationship between Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) and disability initiatives in pursuit of driving positive change and creating a more inclusive South African workforce.

The B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice, an essential framework for promoting economic transformation in South Africa, offer substantial incentives for organisations to include people with disabilities in their workforce or initiatives. Under the General Amended B-BBEE Codes of Good Practice, these initiatives have the potential to directly contribute up to 11 points to a company’s B-BBEE scorecard, underscoring their importance in the transformation landscape. Unfortunately, the majority of businesses still view investments in disability-related projects as mere tick-box exercises designed to meet scorecard targets or ‘too difficult’ to achieve, without a genuine commitment to the cause.

Yuneal Padayachy, The BEE Chamber’s Chief Support Officer, says: “One concerning development that we wish to address is the rise of hosted learnerships, which, while appealing to employers, are at odds with the intention and spirit of the B-BBEE Codes. This approach often segregates people with disabilities from the rest of the workforce whereby they are hosted elsewhere, perpetuating discrimination and exclusion. To make matters worse, learners on these hosted programmes frequently receive little to no practical training, further diminishing the value of their qualifications and undermining the essence of skills development and learnerships. There are means and ways of incorporating people with disabilities in the workplace without any isolation or exclusion.”

One critical aspect of B-BBEE scorecards is the bonus absorption points awarded to companies that employ learners with disabilities full-time after their learnership contracts conclude. Remarkably, these learners do not need to be employed by the company that initiated the programme, and other employers can provide the necessary employment. This encourages organisations to push for guarantees of permanent employment to secure the additional absorption points.

However, meeting Economically Active Population (EAP) targets through disability initiatives is a challenge due to the limited employable population of people with disabilities in South Africa, which is only about 6.6% of the total population, according to City of Johannesburg report published in June 2021.

“Simulated working environments have become a troubling trend, as they often fall short of providing learners or employees with the real-life exposure needed to prepare or sustain them for the workforce. Some providers even offer learners no workplace experience at all, leaving them with a qualification of little practical value. This practice, especially when involving learners with disabilities, is not only unethical but also hinders the objective of Skills Development and learnerships.”

The BEE Chamber underscores that a sincere commitment to integrating people with disabilities into the workforce begins with creating an accepting, educated, and sensitised workforce. To effect meaningful change, organisations must change the way they perceive disability and develop policies and procedures around disability in the workplace, as well as empower their Human Resource staff and other departments to work effectively with people with disabilities. Disability integration should be ingrained into the culture and values of the organisation, starting at the highest levels of leadership.

“When companies embrace Skills Development and the other elements of the B-BBEE scorecard as a means of true transformation, the results can be exciting, and the possibilities are endless. It is crucial that we bring disability out of the shadows and recognise people with disabilities as productive, valuable, and integrated members of the workforce and society,” concludes Padayachy.

The BEE Chamber remains committed to fostering positive change in South Africa’s workforce and society as a whole. It urges businesses to not only meet scorecard targets but to genuinely embrace the principles of inclusivity, diversity, and transformation for a brighter and more inclusive future.