WA government sets ambitious new disability employment target for the public sector

By Stephen Easton

December 4, 2019

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The Western Australian government has set a new disability employment target for the public sector of 5% by the end of 2025, and a new action plan explains how it hopes to achieve that.

The new WA target is based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2015, which suggested 5% of working age people in the state had a “moderate or mild core activity limitation” — the same definition of disability used by the state’s Public Sector Commission for its workforce statistics.

A previous target of 2.3% by the end of this year was not met and the Minister for Disability Services, Stephen Dawson, says the new goal will be a big challenge. “Currently, representation of people with disability employed in the sector is only at 1.5% and continues to trend downward,” he said.

In 2015 the representation level was 2.2% and interim targets have been set for each of the next five years, starting with 1.6% for 2020.

“We expect this target to be met,” said the minister. “There is an abundance of evidence showing that employing people with disability makes good business sense, with increased productivity and decreased absenteeism.”

The disability action plan was announced on Tuesday to coincide with International Day of People with Disability, after years of work by the Public Sector Commission and the Department of Communities.

The actions public sector leaders are expected to take are grouped into four categories: educate and empower; attract and develop; lead and build; attract and celebrate. The plan also sets four key principles: leadership, collaboration, accountability, and cultural inclusion.

It is also part of a wider workforce diversity strategy, which will come out in 2020.

“We have been leading the development of this strategy and six action plans for diverse groups for most of this year, so it’s really great to see the first plan released,” said Public Sector Commissioner Sharyn O’Neill.

“Workforce diversification is an important initiative under the Government’s public sector reform program. We expect the strategy to be released by the government early next year along with the five other actions plans — for women, youth, Aboriginal Australians, culturally and linguistically diverse people, and people of diverse sexualities and genders.”

O’Neill said the development of the action plan involved “extensive consultation across the sector and with key stakeholders, particularly people with disability” and she expects it to lead to a a more inclusive workforce which is also more productive and innovative and benefits from greater “diversity of thought”.

“This means different and more expansive thinking beyond our worldviews,” said O’Neill.

“To shift the focus of diversity from compliance to workforce imperative, we have to change gears. We must move from a singular focus on awareness raising to deliberate action and intervention – and see this move as both a personal and a collective responsibility.”

Source: WA Public Sector Commission.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Statistics show the national employment rate of people with disability is only 53% compared to 83% for people without disability.

“Employment is a cornerstone for independence and improved life choices that not only benefits the person with disability but provides social and economic benefits for the entire community,” said the Disability Services Minister.

“We need to recognise that people with disability bring valuable talent, experience and insight to the workplace. People with disability are an integral part of a diverse and inclusive workforce. The extent to which people with disability are included in social, economic and civic life is also an important driver of Western Australia’s future prosperity.”

Such targets vary around the country — in New South Wales, the goal is 5.6% by 2027, while in Victoria it is 6% by next year and in Queensland, the aim is 8% by 2022. “It should be noted that the definition of disability varies across Australian jurisdictions so comparisons are not possible,” the WA Public Sector Commission notes.

However, it is highly likely that far more public servants have some kind of disability than any government realises.

The Commonwealth recently adopted a target of 7% by 2025. But given its anonymous employee census suggests this has already been met on a numerical basis, the real aim is to increase the 3.7% of APS staff who are happy to have disability status recorded in their personnel files.

Read more: Why a 7% disability employment target for the APS really means a greater sense of inclusion and psychological safety

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