Subsidies spur more firms to hire the disabled

PHOTO: Subsidies spur more firms to hire the disabled

WITH more measures rolled out to spur employers to hire the disabled, a more diverse group of companies - beyond the usual F&B types - have begun to tap this workforce.

The Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme and Workfare Income Supplement scheme - which tops up the wages of workers - were extended to cover the disabled from this year.

The SEC initiative provides employers with wage subsidies of 16 per cent of a disabled employee's salary, for someone earning up to $1,500. For those earning between $1,500 and $4,000, employers get a lower subsidy.

The two schemes complement the Open Door Fund (ODF), which has paid for apprenticeships and workplace modifications for the disabled since 2007.

One company that has diversified its workforce is DP Information Network. In October, the provider of credit-bureau services tapped the SEC scheme to hire two visually impaired employees and one afflicted with Apert syndrome, a growth disorder, to conduct research surveys.

"It opens up minds about hiring the disabled," said DP human resources executive Grace Ng of the SEC scheme which, she added, "made it easier" to subsidise a management course that staff had to attend.

Cadaq, a product design support company, has also widened its talent search to do specialised work. The social enterprise has two hearing-impaired employees who work as designers.

Early last year, it tapped the ODF to acquire adaptive technology that converts spoken words into text. "We want to reach out and have equal employment opportunities for the capable," said director Henry Wong.

Events management firm Adrenalin has seven disabled employees working in administration, finance and design.

Managing director Richardo Chua noted that "we'd be doing this even without such schemes, (but) they do help".

The firm sought support from the ODF last year to subsidise stipends for apprenticeships, and is currently applying for help under the SEC scheme.

While there is a growing variety of companies hiring the disabled, the F&B industry is still one of the most consistent employers. Non-profit organisation Bizlink, which helps connect disabled job-seekers with firms, reveals that out of the 200 to 300 people it places a year, a third go into the F&B sector.

Fast-food chain KFC, which has benefited from the subsidies, hires 50 disabled people and has seen roughly 300 pass through its doors over the last 10 years.

Said chief executive Michael Gian: "We have a wide variety of job scopes and we redesign our work stations to suit their needs."

Despite the rise in aid schemes for employers, some argue that the initiatives have limitations.

MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua, a champion of those with special needs, said the SEC scheme for the disabled should not be limited to graduates of special education schools.

"The purpose of the SEC is to encourage the employment of persons with special needs and this purpose should be honoured."

Currently, the SEC scheme for the disabled formally covers only graduates of special education schools, but Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said in Parliament that appropriate requests can be evaluated on a case- by-case basis.

Ms Phua said she knows of adults with special needs who are not graduates of special education schools but need help to be employed.

"As long as these individuals are certified to have special needs by the supporting VWOs and/or medical professionals, they should be included."