South African Human Rights Day is celebrated every year on the 21st of March. A symbol of our troubled history, this commemoration addresses inherent and deeply-rooted discrimination against people who have been oppressed for centuries. While the advent of Constitutional Democracy has seen changes in law and policy intended to emancipate those who have been marginalised, social stigma looms large in the lives of many residing in the Republic today. Pervasive and pernicious, this societal phenomenon is dehumanising and diminishes one’s quality of life. While there exists a firm commitment to achieving substantive equality, efforts in practice to truly achieve this in the lives of the most vulnerable have been disparate and much remains to be done in order for this to be realised. Pertinent examples of groups remaining in peril are people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities. A rudimentary example of this is that the right to work of people so-situated is largely curtailed or simply extinguished. This violates their rights to inherent dignity and that they are equal before the law. This is patently unconstitutional and contrary to the prescripts of international law.
The right to work is espoused in detail in the International Covenant of Social, Cultural and Economic Rights. It states that every person has the right to gain a living through work they choose and accept. It also details that states must make opportunities available for people to gain skill sets in order for them to become employable. It is important to understand that this right extends to everyone and is not exclusive to those without a disability. A legal instrument which augments the notion of equality within the workplace is the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has as part of its focus the mainstreaming of people with disabilities into all societal environments. Nationally, and in addition to the aforesaid Constitutional entitlements, a protective shield is created for people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities by legislation such as the Labour Relations Act, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Employment Equity Act, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and others. Despite this; and as indicated; implementation on the ground is poor, resulting in people so-situated suffering the effects of unemployment and unfair labour practices.
According to the 16th Commission for Employment Equity, only 1.2% of the workforce are people with disabilities in comparison with the target of 2%. This figure is unacceptably low and represents a failure on the part of duty-bearers to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace. People with psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities constitute a significant portion of this demographic and suffer under the hand of flagrant present-day disadvantage despite our legal framework.
People with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities have long-since been considered incapable and capricious. This is highly prevalent among potential employers who are of the view that they will have to make unreasonable allowances for such individuals when, in fact, the law prescribes purely their reasonable accommodation. Stigma against people so-situated is entrenched in others from a young age and it carries over to all decisions made about them, including whether they have the capacity to become part of the workforce. This is despite a growing body of empirical evidence that such individuals can excel in a conducive environment and become dependable workers. In addition to the effects of stigma, work-readiness is a significant challenge for people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities, with woefully inadequate availability of opportunities available for higher education and training accommodating the needs of such individuals. This is in spite of the fact that it has been shown that people with psychosocial disabilities and people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities can very successfully cultivate new skills when education is provided.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) is a non-governmental organisation seeking to advocate for and uphold the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities. This year, the organisation will be raising awareness about the right of such individuals to employment. On this Human Rights Day, SAFMH calls upon employers, prospective employers and other stakeholders to ensure that the right of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities to work is upheld and that proactive steps are taken to facilitate the realisation of this right. Government departments and other stakeholders are encouraged to educate people who, themselves, have psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities, as well as their families and caretakers, surrounding their right to employment
Human Rights Day is not only an opportunity to reflect on the past, but also a chance to examine the status quo and how it can be changed for the better. People with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities are wholly deserving of opportunities to realise their right to work and the accompanying rights to dignity and equality through entering into the workforce- and should not be denied this right on account of stigma and discrimination. #takeyourplace
For Enquiries Contact:
Project Leader: Information and Awareness
Tel: 011 781 1852