Ensure legal protection for people with disabilities in hiring process and workplace

WONG SOAK KOON/ALIRAN

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Aida (Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group), along with our allies, express deep disappointment over the remarks made by Human Resources Minister V Sivakumar at the 16 October press conference held at the Parliament building.

“The country’s laws on workplace discrimination cover persons with disabilities as well, and there is no need to enact specific legislation for this group,” he said.

The minister’s statement reflects a lack of understanding and acknowledgment of the systemic barriers faced by persons with diverse disabilities in job search, recruitment and employment.

He further substantiated his statement by pointing out that the government had only received eight reported cases up to 30 September, none of which involved discrimination faced by employees with disabilities.  

In response to the minister’s statement, we raise four key points:

  • Exclusion of people with disabilities in the hiring process: People with disabilities consistently face exclusion during the hiring process, battling biases and discrimination from the outset. Long-standing government failure to address this problem perpetuates the systemic issue, leaving disabled persons marginalised. With this bias in the hiring process, many persons with disabilities are forced to hide their disability for fear of being discriminated against. A case in point: a blind university graduate with first class honours was handed RM50 and told to go home when he showed up in person for a job interview he had been shortlisted for.

Global data show that 80-90% of working-age persons with disabilities are unemployed in developing countries. Yet, Malaysian data regarding the employment status of persons with disabilities are not available in the public domain, and are not disaggregated by gender, age, and disability. The poverty of Malaysian data obscures the true extent of issues faced by people with diverse disabilities in the job search, recruitment, employment and job retention process.

  • Mandate 1% people with disabilities in public sector employment: The implementation of Malaysia’s commitment to hiring 1% of people with disabilities in the civil service has been a dismal failure. Except for the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, this mandate remains unfulfilled.

In 2021 it was reported that only 0.35% of employees in the civil service were people with disabilities, much lower than the targeted 1% quota for the public sector. The government’s inability to meet its own policy target raises serious concerns regarding its commitment to inclusivity as demonstrated through disability inclusion. The minister missed seizing the opportunity to address the real issue: the absence of reported cases of workplace discrimination against persons with diverse disabilities is actually indicative of the fact that most of us are not getting employed in the first place

  • Critical amendments to the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008: Malaysia urgently needs comprehensive amendments to empower persons with disabilities and uphold and protect our rights. We stress the urgent need for the: (a) establishment of a disability tribunal to ensure affordable and disabled-friendly access to justice (b) appointment of an independent disability commissioner with authority, to track implementation and enforcement and troubleshoot gaps in the building and strengthening of disabled-related multi-ministerial coordination and cooperation; (c) introduction and implementation of legal provisions for the rights of women and girls with disabilities. People with disabilities have distinct needs and rights. The Employment Act, as it stands, does not suffice for protecting and upholding the rights of people with disabilities in the entire process of job search, recruitment, employment and continuous learning and career advancement
  • Claim of only eight reported cases, none involved discrimination against disabled employees:This claim is based on serious flaws in logic and understanding of the depth and pervasive impact of discriminatory practices.  The lived reality is that most persons with disabilities acquiesce in the face of discrimination. Many of us are enslaved by widespread discriminatory practices. We have little choice and no experience of access to justice when we experience discrimination. Most of us do not have a basic grasp of legal literacy. Since Merdeka, mechanisms for reporting discrimination cannot be accessed by persons with disabilities. This fact can no longer be ignored in 21st Century Malaysia.
READ MORE:  Without specific laws, workplace discrimination against people with disabilities will continue

Consider the following case studies that we received in our collective advocacy efforts.

  • Person with invisible disability, aged 36

In a virtual job interview, everything appeared promising as the interviewer expressed immediate interest and promised an offer letter. However, during the interview, she had no chance to disclose her long-term medication and therapy for depression. After receiving the offer letter and proactively disclosing her condition, the employer rescinded the offer, citing inexperience with employees dealing with depression. This incident sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and mental health conditions in Malaysia’s job market

  • Deaf person, wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, aged 37

He had been employed by a company for four years. Unfortunately, the building where he worked was not wheelchair user-friendly, and there was no accessible toilet (toilet for people with disabilities) on the same level as his workstation. This meant he had to go downstairs whenever he needed to use the toilet. When he requested improved accessibility, his request was denied, and he was subsequently asked to leave the company. To make matters worse, he was not paid his salary for the last month before termination. He couldn’t manage to go through with the process of filing a formal complaint due to the lack of accessible transportation and the inability to travel independently. He was also discouraged from reporting to the authorities, as cases such as his were deemed of no priority and tended to remain unresolved.

The fear of being penalised for being disabled is real. It is well-grounded in the experiences of many people with disabilities.

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We urge the government to initiate open and extensive consultations with stakeholders and the public to ensure that amendments to the Persons with Disabilities Act include comprehensive employment-related provisions. Those provisions must genuinely reflect the experiences and needs of persons with disabilities and be harmonised with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that Malaysia ratified in 2010. The human resources minister could play a historic role by acquiring a holistic understanding of the systemic problems obstructing the employment of people with disabilities and proposing the legal provisions for their removal. Failure to enact meaningful legislative amendments would perpetuate the exclusion and discrimination faced by people with disabilities who are estimated to be 16% of the Malaysian population.

Signatories

  1. Beatrice Leong, autistic adult, founder of Aida (Autism Inclusiveness Direct Action Group)
  2. Ch’ng B’ao Zhong, autistic adult, licensed and registered counsellor
  3. Raul Lee Bhaskaran, ADHD individual, lawyer, civil rights activist
  4. Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, person with dyslexia, child-disability activist; advisor, National Early Childhood Intervention Council; advisor, National Family Support Group for Children and People with Special Needs; member, The OKU Rights Matter Project
  5. Anthony Chong, PhD, co-founder and secretary, Deaf Advocacy and Well-being National (Dawn), Malaysia
  6. Moses Choo, blind person; former member, Majlis Kebangsaan Orang Kurang Upaya (MBOKU) 2016-2021; independent consultant on information and communications technology for blind persons and persons with low vision
  7. Dr Lim Tien Hong, blind person, disability rights activist
  8. San Yuenwah, person with invisible disability, care partner, disability rights advocate, member, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group; member, The OKU Rights Matter Project
  9. Dr Naziaty Yaacob, polio survivor and person with multiple disabilities; accessibility and mobility advisor-cum-trainer; former member, Majlis Kebangsaan Orang Kurang Upaya (MBOKU) 2008-2012; and former associate professor of architecture, University of Malaya
  10. Meera Samanther, former president of Association of Women Lawyers (AWL) and Women’s Aid Organisation; executive committee member of AWL; member, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group; and parent advocate, disability and gender activist
  11. Ng Lai-Thin, care partner and project lead, National Early Childhood Intervention Council; and member, The OKU Rights Matter Project
  12. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
  13. The OKU Rights Matter Project
  14. Dr Zahilah Filzah Zulkifli, consultant paediatrician; president, Malaysian Advocate for Child Health; autism consultant with AT-Autism, SPELL lead trainer
  15. Prof Dr Ramiza Ramza Ramli, chairman, USM Early Intervention Center (UNEIC); and chairman, USM Autism Society
  16. Dr Mohd Iqbal Iyen, paediatrician, Jesselton Medical Centre, Kota Kinabalu
  17. Dr Intan Juliana Abd Hamid, consultant paediatric immunology and allergy, Institut Perubatan dan Pergigian Termaju, Universiti Sains Malaysia
  18. Dr Fahisham Taib, consultant paediatrician, senior lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia
  19. Dr Syed Abdul Khaliq Syed Abd Hamid, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist, An-Nur Specialist Hospital, Bangi
  20. Penang Independent Living Association for the Disabled (Pilad)
  21. Datin Anit Kaur Randhawa, parent advocate; member, Harapan OKU Law Reform Group; member, The OKU Rights Matter Project
  22. Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon, Professor, Department of Psychology, Sunway University; mental health advocate
  23. Mohd Zaqrul Razmal bin Mohd Podzi, Consultant Paediatrician, Mawar Medical Centre, 70400 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan
The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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