Public service drive to increase number of employees with disabilities by 2022

Eighteen percent of Queenslanders identify as living with a disability, but only 3 percent of those work for the public service.

The Brisbane Times tells us Queensland’s public service is trying to improve those figures by ensuring it reaches its target of 8 percent of its workforce being made up of people living with a disability by 2022.

That means, that in less than 14 months, the state government would need to hire 14,570 more people with a disability to meet the goal.

But Developing Australian Communities co-founder River Night says to find those more than 1000 people a month qualified to do the jobs you need filled over the next 14 months is not as easy as it sounds, on paper.

He tells ABC Sunshine Coast and Cooloola Coast radio listeners that while it is important to get more people with a disability into the workforce, particularly in the public sector which is a difficult sector to break in to, privacy, possible reverse discrimination and “tokenism” would play a big part in reaching the above job targets.

Mr Night, who has more than two decades of experience in the disability sector, said it was an ambitious target and hard to monitor.

He said the majority of people with disability never tick the box to say they have a disability and it is this “underreporting” that would make it hard to compile statistics on disability workers.

The Brisbane Times reported the government is doing an audit across the public service to reclassify any employees who might have been missed from the official disability count.

The total number of people with a disability working in the public service has increased by just 172 overall since June 2015, and even declined between 2015 and 2018.

The latest data, from March 2021, shows just 2.83 percent of Queensland’s 281,752 total employee public sector workforce has a disability.

That equates to 7970 people.

While the state’s public service sector is currently going through existing staff to see if they can tick the “disability box” and increase figures to help reach the 14,570 target, Mr Night says in his experience there’s a culture of competitiveness that makes job-seekers living with a disability unsure whether to declare their disability or not.

“Do I or don’t I acknowledge I have a disability? Will it go against me or will I get the job just because I am disabled?,” he wondered.

“It could be a case of reverse discrimination and may make some people feel uncomfortable.

“People need to know they got the job on their merits not because they ticked a box.

“There’s a certain reluctance to put it (declaring a disability) out there – will it help or prevent me at the interview? How do I have an interview on my merits, not just be hired to meet a quota?

“So, how do we go about reporting that statistic?”

Mr Night told listeners it was also a privacy issue.

“It’s no one else’s business – if you can do the job does it matter if you have a disability?” he said.

“People with a disability don’t want to be a token hire but rather a peer.

“I don’t want to discourage this campaign – the public service can lead the way and meet their targets and show other companies the way, breaking down prejudice and barriers.

But disclosure is a tricky subject and only really relevant if it affects how you can fulfil the role, Mr Night said, – but employers can’t straight up ask you about your disability – it can be construed as discrimination, just as asking about gender or race can be considered inappropriate.

“It’s a two-edged sword,” he said.

“But the questions can be relevant, appropriate and not discriminatory if asked in relation to safety etc to allow you to do your job properly and in safety.

“For example if someone is in a wheelchair then the employer must ensure the workplace is equipped for a chair.

“But it is the disabilities you can’t see – emotional and cultural barriers etc – that must be addressed.”

The Sydney Morning Herald claims employers were indeed “anxious” about asking employees to disclose disability.

It reported: “Employers fear asking workers if they have a disability, making data collection on employment rates tricky as companies work to boost their diversity credentials”, according to a recent royal commission.

“There is a bit of anxiety about asking people,” Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott told the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Mr Night said on the radio program that all employees must be valued and he hoped some research and groundwork went into this public service workforce target and it has not been rushed.

“The public sector goal of 8% is hugely important because a huge proportion of the population is living with a disability,” Mr Night said

“We need those people to be employed and know how to apply and be successful.

“They should not be encouraged to apply just because they have a disability – but we do need to encourage workforces to employ more people with disability.

“It’s a mammoth job for public sector HR, going through 1040 people to interview for the jobs!”

Mr Night suggested the Queensland public service sector should tap into places like disability networks and agencies to get the applications flowing.

During budget estimates hearings in August, the Brisbane Times reported Disability Services Department director-general Dr Chris Sarra as saying there were indications the representation of people with a disability in the Queensland public service might be higher than reported.

“To better identify employees with disability, a new diversity census is being undertaken across the Queensland public service workforce,” he said.

Also during estimates, Disability Services Minister Craig Crawford argued there were “restrictions” to meeting the 8 per cent target.

“With COVID, that has been very difficult in the recruitment and retention phase and also with the financial implications of COVID around the public sector workforce,”Mr Crawford said.

“We still have more work to do, but we have time to do it.”

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