Saturday 22 December 2012

$1.7 million boost in 2012 to get more disabled to work: Workfare Income Supplement and Special Employment Credit

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 21 Dec 2012

ABOUT $1.7 million was handed out by the Government this year as part of its effort to get more disabled people to work, a group seen as an "important source" of workers amid the labour squeeze in Singapore.

At Han's Cafe and Cake House chain, productivity and turnover have increased since it began employing them in 2008, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Halimah Yacob yesterday.

"Instead of being a liability to employers, they are assets," she told reporters after visiting a Han's outlet in Pickering Street.

"Many employers find they are loyal employees and do not job-hop."

Han's is among 1,150 companies to receive wage subsidies from the Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme, which was extended this year to the disabled to encourage them to enter the workforce and lead independent lives.

Another work scheme that was also extended to the disabled this year is the Workfare Income Supplement, which is given to those who have worked for at least two months in any three-month period this year and earn less than $1,700 a month, among other criteria.

But the bulk of the payout is from the SEC scheme, which gave employers $1.24 million in September this year for hiring 1,863 disabled Singaporeans.

By saving on manpower costs, Han's was able to spend more money to modify its kitchen so that it is more disabled-friendly.

Said Mr Han Choon Fook, managing director of Han's: "We take steps to support them by modifying the workplace to make the environment more inclusive and accessible.

"Such adjustments create a positive and supportive work environment for everyone, not just those with disabilities."

The Ministry of Social and Family Development expects to spend about $50 million up to 2016 on the employment of the disabled.

With Workfare, the amount given out is $449,000 - to 1,358 disabled people. The Workfare conditions have been eased for the disabled so that even those younger than 35 can receive it.

In the case of the non-disabled, they have to be at least 35 years old and earn an average gross monthly income of $1,700 or less, among other conditions, to qualify for Workfare.

Miss Chua Wei Li, who is intellectually disabled, is saving her Workfare money to open a bakery in future.

Said the 18-year-old who works part-time at Han's and studies at the Metta School, which takes in students with mild intellectual disabilities and autism: "I enjoy working here as I get to learn how to bake different kinds of pastries and cakes, but my dream is to have my own shop."

Subsidies spur more firms to hire the disabled
Employers not just from F&B sector, but also design, events management
By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2012

WITH more measures rolled out to spur employers to hire the disabled, a more diverse group of companies - beyond the usual F&B types - have begun to tap this workforce.

The Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme and Workfare Income Supplement scheme - which tops up the wages of workers - were extended to cover the disabled from this year.

The SEC initiative provides employers with wage subsidies of 16 per cent of a disabled employee's salary, for someone earning up to $1,500. For those earning between $1,500 and $4,000, employers get a lower subsidy.

The two schemes complement the Open Door Fund (ODF), which has paid for apprenticeships and workplace modifications for the disabled since 2007.

One company that has diversified its workforce is DP Information Network. In October, the provider of credit-bureau services tapped the SEC scheme to hire two visually impaired employees and one afflicted with Apert syndrome, a growth disorder, to conduct research surveys.

"It opens up minds about hiring the disabled," said DP human resources executive Grace Ng of the SEC scheme which, she added, "made it easier" to subsidise a management course that staff had to attend.

Cadaq, a product design support company, has also widened its talent search to do specialised work. The social enterprise has two hearing-impaired employees who work as designers.

Early last year, it tapped the ODF to acquire adaptive technology that converts spoken words into text. "We want to reach out and have equal employment opportunities for the capable," said director Henry Wong.

Events management firm Adrenalin has seven disabled employees working in administration, finance and design.

Managing director Richardo Chua noted that "we'd be doing this even without such schemes, (but) they do help".

The firm sought support from the ODF last year to subsidise stipends for apprenticeships, and is currently applying for help under the SEC scheme.

While there is a growing variety of companies hiring the disabled, the F&B industry is still one of the most consistent employers. Non-profit organisation Bizlink, which helps connect disabled job-seekers with firms, reveals that out of the 200 to 300 people it places a year, a third go into the F&B sector.

Fast-food chain KFC, which has benefited from the subsidies, hires 50 disabled people and has seen roughly 300 pass through its doors over the last 10 years.

Said chief executive Michael Gian: "We have a wide variety of job scopes and we redesign our work stations to suit their needs."

Despite the rise in aid schemes for employers, some argue that the initiatives have limitations.

MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua, a champion of those with special needs, said the SEC scheme for the disabled should not be limited to graduates of special education schools.

"The purpose of the SEC is to encourage the employment of persons with special needs and this purpose should be honoured."

Currently, the SEC scheme for the disabled formally covers only graduates of special education schools, but Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing had said in Parliament that appropriate requests can be evaluated on a case- by-case basis.

Ms Phua said she knows of adults with special needs who are not graduates of special education schools but need help to be employed.

"As long as these individuals are certified to have special needs by the supporting VWOs and/or medical professionals, they should be included."

$1.7M Paid Out Under Special Employment Credit (SEC) And Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) For Persons With Disabilities

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