Towards a Covid-resilient disability inclusive labour market
The Daily Star in association with Bangladesh Business and Disability Network (BBDN) and Bangladesh Employers Federation (BEF) organised an online discussion titled "Towards a Covid-resilient disability inclusive labour market" on September 11, 2021. Here we publish a summary of the discussion.
Murteza Khan, CEO, BBDN
BBDN is a non-profit trust established by the BEF to create a disability-inclusive labour market system in Bangladesh. Employers, disability focused organizations and civil society organizations are welcome to join BBDN. This webinar is a part of the initiative of the Inclusion Works programme funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The programme is led by Sightsavers International and ADD International. It aims to increase access to waged employment for persons with disabilities in the private sector of Bangladesh.
The Inclusion Works programme started prior to Covid-19. After the emergence of Covid-19, there was a need to adjust the activities of the programme and update our initial labour market assessment.
The main objective of today's discussion is to hear from our distinguished panellists about their views on the findings of our updated assessments and seek their guidance on how to include persons with disabilities in the Covid recovery phase of the economy.
Simon Brown, Global Technical Lead, Sightsavers International
Today, we will be comparing our latest labour market assessment in 2021 to our original assessment from 2019. We want to see how the labour market has changed in these two years. A part of this change can be attributed to the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
We started by reviewing existing data along with policy and regulation. After that, we moved into primary data collection; we spoke with employers and jobseekers. We found that Bangladesh's economy has been extremely resilient. Despite going into a shock during the start of the pandemic in 2020, the country's economy has recovered fairly quickly. This recovery was in part due to the stimulus packages provided by the government. These stimulus packages particularly supported larger businesses.
The focus on large industries allowed the export and the tax revenues to recover quickly. However, during this time, Cottage, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (CMSMEs) struggled.
By the end of 2020, the unemployment rate grew from four percent to around five percent. This rise in unemployment had a significant effect on the ability of households to sustain themselves.
Our survey of households found that certain groups were particularly affected in terms of unemployment and financial hardship. These groups were either forced to withdraw their savings or take out loans to get through the economic turmoil. CMSMEs, persons with disabilities, female headed households, slum and char households were the worst sufferers.
Our survey found that persons with disabilities were particularly vulnerable to loss of employment and increasing debt burden. It will take at least three years to repay the debts they have incurred during the pandemic.
Alongside this, we had discussions with both employers and jobseekers. We found that the labour market and employers are committed to including persons with disabilities in their workforce. We have seen companies in Bangladesh investing in boosting confidence of persons with disabilities. They have also invested in training to make their organisations more inclusive of persons with disabilities.
It is apparent in Bangladesh and other economies, that the future of work will be a blend of working in person and working remotely. As we move towards transitioning into Digital Bangladesh, digital skills will become extremely important. From the Eighth Five Year Plan, it is also clear that CMSMEs will be quite important in the next economic cycle.
Waged employment will continue to lag for some time. And self-employment will have an increased importance for persons with disabilities.
There are areas of the regulatory framework where programmes such as the Inclusion Works programme and others should have an influence.
The barriers for women with disabilities in Bangladesh are considerable. We must address these vulnerabilities including verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
The people in the next economic cycle will be more independent, self-employed and focused on their businesses. Persons with disabilities should not only be jobseekers but also employers. To achieve this, persons with disabilities should have proper access to banking and credit facilities.
Sumon Chandra Saha, Assistant General Manager, Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Foundation
SMEs and CMSMEs have suffered extensive losses during the pandemic. 75 percent of small businesses went out of business during the pandemic. Almost 75 percent of the Tk 20,000 crore stimulus package has already been disbursed through the banking channel. Since most CMSMEs do not use formal financial systems, it was difficult for them to access these stimulus packages. A lot of them don't have bank accounts or trade licenses, which is a requirement for taking out loans from the banks. As a result, CMSMEs and women entrepreneurs have not been able to access these loans.
It is essential for us to prioritise women entrepreneurs and persons with disabilities. The SME Foundation was provided with Tk 100 crore in the last fiscal year to disburse to CMSMEs. We have disbursed the entire amount to around 1,000 entrepreneurs using our partner financial institutions. We tried our best to accommodate persons with disabilities in this stimulus package.
Small entrepreneurs are gradually becoming more familiar with digital technologies. They have started using online platforms to sell their products and services.
While focusing on self-employment, we should make our existing technologies accessible for persons with disabilities. Our policies need to be revised and redesigned accordingly.
Md Humayan Kabir, Vice President, Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA)
We have been trying to include persons with disabilities in the fish processing industry. BBDN, ADD and Sightsavers have helped us in this effort. All other industries where persons with disabilities can be employed should come forward and create opportunities for their employment
The workplace should be made more inclusive of persons with disabilities. The time duration of maternity leave for women with disabilities needs to be increased. There should be a daycare centre in every factory. The factories should provide transportation facilities to the employees with disabilities.
Persons with certain types of disabilities may require more time to do certain types of work, and that is a major reason why some employers avoid hiring them. The government needs to address this issue by providing incentives to employers who employ persons with disabilities.
Mohamed Haniffa Mohamed Fairoz, Vice President, Foreign Investors' Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)
The main objective of today's webinar is to discuss the paradigm shift in the labour market and devise strategies for greater disability inclusion. Persons with disabilities must be given every opportunity to be gainfully employed. I believe the outcome of this webinar will provide us with a clear understanding of the gaps in the labour market in terms of disability inclusion.
We need to bring today's ideas in one framework and prioritise the implementation of the most important ones. We can take these recommendations to the next level with the support of everyone present here today. FICCI has over 200 multinational members in 20 sectors. We look forward to working with BBDN to take this agenda forward.
Shafiqul Islam, Country Director, ADD International (Bangladesh)
A situational analysis was conducted in 2019. This study focused on the thoughts, aspirations and the barriers faced by persons with disabilities when trying to join the formal employment sector. One of the key barriers, especially for young persons with disabilities, is their lack of skills. Some also mentioned the distance between the office and their home as a major issue. Commuting every day to those locations is one of the main challenges, especially for women with disabilities. Community traffic police can take the initiative to ensure a level of protection for persons with disabilities who commute to and from work.
There are also social barriers, such as families not allowing persons with disabilities to go out and work. There is a general stigma surrounding persons with disabilities in our society which is why employers often don't feel confident in hiring persons with disabilities.
One way to support individuals with disabilities is to provide them with information about different employers and the working environment. Alongside this, they should be offered opportunities to develop their hard and soft skills. These efforts can give them the mental preparation needed to enter the job market.
The technical and vocational education centres at the district level have many areas of inaccessibility, in terms of both physical infrastructure and the curriculum. Hard and soft skills training should be made more accessible.
We provide employers with sensitisation training. Along with that, we provide information about disabilities and the provisions made by the government through the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act. On the demand side, it is essential to build confidence in employers who want to employ persons with disabilities. They need to understand that persons with disabilities have the capability to do their jobs well. Along with employers, colleagues must also understand that persons with disabilities are equally employable and deserve the same level of respect and dignity.
Financial institutions should make the process of borrowing more flexible and easier for persons with disabilities. The collateral provisions required should be reduced for persons with disabilities. This will allow them to pursue opportunities for self-employment or investment in income-generating activities.
We need to think beyond the formal employment sector, such as employment in SMEs or self-employment for persons with disabilities.
We need to unpack the government's declaration of tax incentives for the employment of persons with disabilities. We need to know how these tax incentives will be implemented.
We must ensure that our workplaces are accessible to and can accommodate persons with disabilities. When working with persons with disabilities, we have to ensure they are getting proper respect. Employment for persons with disabilities is not charity, it is their right. Both private and public sectors should come forward to employ persons with disabilities.
Monsur Ahmed Chowdhury, Trustee, BBDN
There are 11 kinds of disabilities under the law of Bangladesh, starting from vision, hearing and speech impairment to physical challenges for upper or lower limbs. When we talk about employing persons with disabilities, we should be specific about what type of disability the employed people have. The needs of both employees and employers are different based on the type of disability. For example, a person with visual impairment would have a very different set of needs in the workplace in comparison to someone who has a speech impairment. Therefore, being more specific when speaking about inclusive environments and accessibility would help employers plan the process better.
Employers can be particular about hiring persons with a certain disability which is suited to their industry. I would strongly recommend that BBDN carry out an assessment of various jobs relevant to workers with different types of disabilities.
It can be difficult for persons with disabilities to pursue higher studies. In a lot of cases, it is difficult for persons with disabilities to find employment. We should provide them with skills development training. We can employ persons with disabilities in different industrial sectors according to their capabilities. This recommendation should be seriously considered by the BEF. They can even partner with BBDN for support on the matter.
Persons with disabilities also face difficulties when applying for loans or credit cards. Banks often hesitate to provide them with loans. I've personally faced this problem. Our financial institutions need to be more flexible when working with persons with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities can engage themselves in a variety of fields depending on their particular situation. We must take the type of disability into account and then place these individuals in jobs where they fit in perfectly.
BBDN should consider taking the recommendations from this discussion to the leading trade bodies of the country. A recommendation should be submitted to the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance to provide financial loans for persons with disabilities with a lower interest rate.
Ardashir Kabir, President, BEF
The findings validate the need for collaboration between the demand and supply side of the market. We need support from the organisations that have participated in today's discussion to build the disability confidence about hiring persons with disabilities, so that they understand the benefits of bringing the latter into their business. We need to provide persons with disabilities the right set of skills. This will enable them to effectively participate in the job market.
One of the key drivers of Bangladesh's remarkable economic performance has been the inclusion of women in the labour force. Women with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups, and are often excluded from the job market. We have to address their vulnerabilities and ensure their participation in the job market.
Existing technologies should be made accessible for persons with disabilities.
Employers should provide transport facilities for persons with disabilities.
Provide persons with disabilities information on disability-confident employers and different working environments so that they can make informed choices.
Create easy access to technical and vocational education for persons with disabilities.
Carry out an assessment to find out the sectors that are suitable based on the different types of disability.
Provide skills-based training to persons with disabilities.
Incentivise employers to hire persons with disabilities in their workplace.
Persons with disabilities should be provided loans with a lower interest rate.
Ensure access to banking and credit facilities for persons with disabilities.
Special attention should be given to the gender specific needs of persons with disabilities.