A new Disability in the Workplace Act is on the cards for the three-month-old Barbados Labour Party administration, three years after it was introduced, Home Affairs Minister Edmund Hinkson has declared.
And Hinkson, a leader in the disabled community now a Minister of Government, has also promised that the department is to complete its move to a new building, which began construction under the previous administration.
The lawyer was speaking on the sidelines of a recent tour of the House of Assembly by pupils of the Gordon Greenidge Primary School in his St James North riding.
“The establishment of a Disabilities in the Workplace Bill which has been knocking around for three years when I was an opposition Member of Parliament – and as you know I also sat as Director of the National Disabilities Council – and I would have gone to a couple meetings which would have included that disability in the workplace bill. Obviously, from a legislative viewpoint [the Act] will prohibit discrimination among persons with disabilities in the workplace” he said.
The current way of defining someone as disabled and medically unfit needed revamping because disabled people still have their mental facilities functioning and are capable of working, he said.
“The workplace as is reasonable would have to retrofit the workplace to accommodate a person with a disability, or they may have an employee who became disabled in terms of mobility as a result of an accident.”
Under current law, workers who become disabled during their employment must wait a year before applying to a medical board, constituted by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), that makes the declaration of incapacity.
“You may end up on the public purse through NIS where nothing is wrong with your brain, your mental capabilities and you should still be able to work,” he said adding that people with disabilities were more appreciative of jobs than those who were able-bodied.
“A lot of persons with disabilities, visual, mobile disabilities are as bright or brighter than persons who do not have those abilities, and of course they treasure a job more because they realize that they have been given an opportunity to show their worth, invariably you would find that they concentrate more on the job,” Hinkson said
“So we are committed to bringing that in legislation.”
The Home Affairs Minister criticized the Freundel Stuart administration for never bringing a comprehensive disability law to Parliament since he proposed it in 2015.
“I would have laid in Parliament a resolution calling for comprehensive disability legislation now in March 2015 and it was never debated by the previous government; certainly that is something that we need to look at,” he said.
The then Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett assured the disabled community earlier this year that the National Disabilities Unit would have been relocated to the new building under construction in Collymore Rock, St Michael.
“It ought to have been completed by now”, Hinkson said.
“When I was a Director for [the National Council for the Disabled] we would have agreed for the Disabilities Unit to be relocated into that building and we were told that it would have been completed a while ago.
“Certainly, the then Minister Steve Blackett in the month of March earlier this year said that it would have been finished. Minister Forde has visited the building and we hope that it will soon be opened,” the Minister said. He added that it was impractical for members of the disabled community to have to do business in a two-storey building. (LG)