Representative bodies for severely disabled employees: equal opportunities given equal qualifications


Inclusion in schools is a major and important topic. However, one aspect that is often ignored is the fact that children with disabilities become adults – and they preferably want to find a job in the primary labor market after they graduate. Yet this doesn’t always happen without a hitch. Representative bodies for severely disabled employees provide contacts if there are any issues in the workplace or prior to getting a job. At the REHACARE trade fair, the duties and responsibilities of these types of representative bodies are being introduced.

Image: Martin Bsdurek ; Copyright: beta-web/Höpfner

Martin Bsdurek delivers a lecture at the REHACARE Forum; © beta-web/Höpfner

At the moment, the reality still is that people with disabilities have a hard time obtaining access to adequate work. Oftentimes, this is not due to a lack of education but simply because companies are hesitant or concerned about the higher costs of hiring people with disabilities. Needless to say, not every small company is able to remodel a building to create a barrier-free environment. Obviously, there are also professions where physical and intellectual fitness is a prerequisite. But let’s be honest, most jobs can just as well be performed by people with disabilities.

If you are employed at a large company, the advantage is that oftentimes a so-called disability representative is at your disposal. Martin Bsdurek is the President of the Working Group on the Representative Bodies for Severely Disabled People in North Rhine-Westphalia (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Schwerbehindertenvertretungen in NRW) as well as the Deputy Representative of People with Disabilities in Bochum. At the REHACARE, he gave a lecture on Thursday titled "Workforce participation – The important role of representative bodies for severely disabled employees", which received a lot of attention. He is familiar with the issues of the people he serves. "People with disabilities either seek our support to gain access to the primary labor market, or they need help in protecting an existing employment agreement. However, we are confronted with increasing cost and performance pressure in companies and government agencies, combined with a lower tolerance towards employees with different or changed performance abilities." This is a thought-provoking statement, since especially the last point may not only be interesting to people with disabilities in the future. Given an increase in the extension of working life, companies will be more often confronted with older employees who don’t voluntarily retire – because many actually won’t be able to afford retirement.

Inclusion needs to be intentional

That’s why it is all the more important now for all companies to lay the groundwork to include young and old as well as people with and without disabilities. But this doesn’t always succeed because to some extent there is a lack of wanting to make a concerted effort. Asked about inclusion in the workplace, Bsdurek says, "There has been some partial success in addressing this subject. There are some inclusion advisory committees that promote the issue. Usually, the focus is on adapting existing norms. But new laws oftentimes means putting old wine into new wineskins. Wherever committed stakeholders work on inclusion, it succeeds. But it remains the task of many generations; it will take a long time to reach our goals.“ In addition to current duties and responsibilities, the new Federal Participation Law already has an effect on his work. “We indirectly feel the impact through modified financing processes and procedures in the area of benefits for people with disabilities in the workplace, and we feel the impact directly through the proposed amendments to the German Social Security Code IX pertaining to tasks, rights and duties of representative bodies for severally disabled employees."

So the representative bodies will presumably still have a lot to do in the future. That’s why it is a good thing that people like Martin Bsdurek continue to advocate and ensure that working and disability are no longer a contradiction. If you want to know more about this subject, you will find many contacts at the REHACARE. Among other places, at the "People with disabilities at work" Theme Park in Hall 3, Stand 3C74 – 3E90.
Foto: Simone Ernst; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Simone Ernst
translated by Elena O'Meara