Re-integration, rehabilitation and return-to-work of disabled workers : a comparative legal enquiry
There are many employment positions in the labour market that could be filled by the disabled of whom most, given the right environment, could be productive in the workplace. However, there are employers who still labour under the misconception that Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) are unqualified and unproductive although their participation in the workplace could contribute to the national economy, while restoring their dignity and social integration. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) entered into force on 3 May 2008. The CRPD is the first international legally binding treaty aimed specifically at protecting the rights of PWDs. It is expected of ratifying States Parties to either amend their domestic existing laws or to enact new legislation in order to meet their obligations, as set out in the CRPD. In 2008, South Africa ratified the CRPD and the Optional Protocol, thus committing itself to the provisions relating to, inter alia, workplace integration. Article 26 of the Convention mandates States Parties to take effective and appropriate measures to enable PWDs to attain and maintain maximum independence, physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and to ensure their social inclusion. Article 27 stipulates, inter alia, that States Parties shall safeguard and promote the realisation of the right to work, including those who incur a disability during the course of employment. Legislation should make provision for, inter alia the following: • enable PWDs to have effective access to general technical and vocational guidance programmes; • placement services and continued vocational training; • promote employment opportunities and career advancement; • assistance in sourcing, obtaining, maintaining and returning to work; and • reasonable accommodation in the workplace as well as vocational and professional rehabilitation. Although the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act 130 of 1993 was amended recently to include rehabilitation, re-integration and return to work (RTW) as part of its objectives, it will be argued that South Africa needs to initiate targeted legislation and policies that make disability management functions mandatory. Employers’ obligations need to be set out clearly in the Act, because, as it stands, the following lacunae exist: • There is no obligation to appoint Case Managers; • Dismissal protection is not provided for; • The regulation of negative incentives to assist with RTW compliance is lacking; and • The roles of different stakeholders in the RTW process require clarification. Without South Africa having an appropriate and detailed RTW framework, ill or injured employees stand the risk of losing their jobs and becoming dependent on family members and/or disability grants. Against this background, a comparative analysis of international and regional law and the RTW practices of two foreign jurisdictions were made. This enabled the author to devise recommendations and identify the roles of the government, employers, employees and Case Managers. The primary objective of this thesis is to determine how and to what extent regional and international standards and RTW programmes in other countries could assist in developing and amending the current legislative and policy framework in South Africa to promote the RTW of disabled employees.
- Law