Jobs for the handicapped? Information is the key

  • 2000-04-06
  • By Anna Pridanova
RIGA – Some claim that the handicapped are unemployed because they are not interested in working, until the state compensates their inability to maintain themselves; others say that they are legally unprotected in the work market, and therefore employers don't want to take responsibility for possible accidents which might happen to employees.

According to Lolita Andersone, the coordinator of a work group preparing drafts for the Employment Law now reviewed in Parliament's Commission of Human Rights, the essence of the problem is the Soviet heritage in the legal system and lack of NGO activities in motivating handicapped to seek jobs.

The legal problems start with the totally inherited Soviet practice of assigning the level of disability to one of three groups. Assignation to a particular group depends on the the family doctor's judgment. Some persons, in respect to the level of their physical disability, can get an additional formal statement on their disability card , "permanently disabled," that does not formally prohibit employing the holder of such a card.

Besides this, the disability card does not contain any additional information about the kind of work the person is able to do. Therefore the potential employer has no relevant information about the qualities of the candidate. This makes the system of identifying the disability level inefficient.

The other problem regarding this statement occurs when one regards it in the context of the Employment Law that defines the status of an unemployed person. It states that the status of an unemployed person (assigned by the State Employment Service), and therefore the right to get state assistance in searching for a suitable job, and to receive unemployment benefits from the state, is available only to those persons capable of working. This means that in the case of losing his or her job, the disabled person is deprived of state protection under paragraph 106 of the Latvian Constitution "the right to freely choose a job and workplace according to his or her aptitude and qualification" through the denial of access to information the State provides to those with the unemployment status.

The deputy director of the Latvian University's Institute of Human Rights, Gita Ozolina, supposes that concerning deprivation of the unemployment benefits there is no contradiction between the state's obligations to protect its citizens, because the state implements its obligations by paying social allowances to every disabled person (accordingly to the level of disability). But regarding paragraph 106 mentioned above, she said, "The state should help these people in terms of job seeking assistance".

Martins Mits, the acting director of the same institution claims "the content of political and civil rights included in the constitution is more or less clear. The content of the economic rights is less clear. The process of crystallization of the content of economical rights will consume more time. This is a common situation for relatively new codes, such as section 8 of the Latvian Constitution, that regulates human rights."

The head of the State Employment Service, Andris Silins, agrees that there is a certain contradiction, though he claims that "the Employment Service never denys them [disabled persons] access to information about vacancies under the same conditions as persons without unemployment status can acquire." Still, he believes that this question is out of his field, though he has raised it several times at governmental sessions.

Lolita Andersone believes that the problem of attracting entrepreneurs to employ disabled people is not only the matter of their low qualification, but the matter of the great expenses of adjusting the workshop to the particular requirements of the handicapped. There are some NGOs that assist these people to get jobs though this often results from the individual approach and seems to be a kind of self-employment. She believes that one possible solution is to introduce certain state practices to inform entrepreneurs about the possibility to use the work of disabled people. The problem is that there is no information about this opportunity, neither entrepreneur-oriented, nor handicapped-oriented, said Andersone.

Ritvars Brisk, the senior expert at the Department of Employment Politics of the Ministry of Welfare explained that there are annual tenders for the projects directed toward the creation of new work positions for unemployed where disabled persons are one of the priority groups. These tenders are conveyed in cooperation with the State Employment Service and enjoyed great response last year with 212 proposals received of which enterprises accounted for one third of the responses. But the problem here is that the new work positions created this way are available only to those with "unemployed" status. The employment of the rest of the handicapped falls to two State Rehabilitation Centers which provide additional professional education and NGO initiatives.

Several larger, more active NGOs, when asked whether they had any particular information distribution projects, responded negatively. Though almost every organization dealing with the integration of disabled people created their own data bases and provides some information about possible positions, the practice of implementing large scale information distribution projects is not yet developed.