At a time when organisations in the region are competing for talent, many are still overlooking or underutilising a critical talent pool: people with disabilities (PWD). Globally, it is estimated that 1.3bn people experience disabilities – making it the largest untapped market, and a sizeable talent pool for companies to leverage as less than a fifth of them are currently employed.

Indeed, while in the Middle East, the conversation about diversity and inclusion often centres on gender, race and ethnicity, there is now a growing focus on the inclusion of people with disabilities and the creation of equal opportunities.

This shift is largely caused by a changing legal framework, self-enforced quotas and tightening bidding criteria. 

Across the GCC, governments have long been promoting opportunities for disabled individuals through regulatory committees designed to monitor government services for people with disabilities and Ministries of Labour have launched educational programmes to promote employer engagement. The past two years have seen governments in the Middle East introduce new laws and campaign for the promotion of employment opportunities for PWD.  We  look at the legislation in different countries, as well as best practices.

1. In Saudi Arabia

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the legal framework states the following: 

  • A Saudi national registered as disabled with the General Organisation for Social Insurance (GOSI) holding a GOSI certificate as a disabled individual will count as four employees under the Nitiqat program.  However, for an employer to benefit from this ratio, it must have a certificate from the Ministry of Labour demonstrating that its premises are properly modified to accommodate disabled employees;
  • Disabled Saudi employees may also work remotely and still be counted under the Nitiqat system;
  • People with disabilities should make up 4% of the workforce for employers with a headcount of 25 or more;
  • The Labour Law's Implementing Regulations contain a table at annex 3 setting out a number of adjustments employers should put in place according to the nature of the employee's disability; and
  • There are also provisions on equal pay and treatment. (Read more

The ‘Priority for Them’ programme is the Ministry of Labour and Social Development's latest initiative. It aims to increase public awareness about access for people with disabilities to all public spaces and to give employers and authorities guidance on how to ensure accessibility. 

2. In the United Arab Emirates

In the UAE, the legal framework supports people with disabilities in the workplace and particularly encourages certain government and private sector organisations to be inclusive. 

The latest Cabinet Resolution No. 43 of 2018 aims to assist people with determination to access equal opportunities in the labour market, and sets out a framework that emphasises the responsibilities of employers and what it refers to as ‘concerned authorities’ in this regard. (Read more).

UAE authorities are clearly pushing for better integration and inclusion in the workplace for people with disabilities.  Various initiatives have been launched, including the online recruitment portal set up by the UAE Ministry of Community Development for employers and employees to register and connect and the rehabilitation centres. Created by the UAE Ministry of Interior, those provide training and employment opportunities for PWD.

3. In Egypt

In Egypt, a law introduced in February last year makes it compulsory for employers with twenty or more employees (based in multiple locations) to employ at least 5% of people with disabilities. Should an employer fail to meet this obligation and be subject to inspection, the inspecting authority can nominate individuals for employment for the company to meet this quota. 

In addition, some companies in Egypt have shown to go beyond compliance by focusing on accessibility and inclusion within their companies. A 2017 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) features examples of good practices from companies in Egypt that are hiring people with disabilities, shining a light on the significant contribution corporate Egypt is making to the inclusion of people with disabilities. 

4. Bringing it all together

On a practical basis, properly promoting opportunities for disabled individuals requires structural change and an in-depth review of how the business presents to this workgroup. Steps employers can consider are:

  • Clearly defining ‘disability’ (both physical and mental) within the employer's policies and considering whether this definition should be the legal one or a wider social and economic one;
  • Reviewing and amending job descriptions and advertisements to encourage applications from disabled candidates;
  • Considering the physical and technological adjustments that will need to be made for specific individuals and the financial commitment that will be required in order to make such adjustments;
  • Considering external support sources (e.g. from government agencies or foundations);
  • Wellness programs for employees and staff training in mental first aid; 
  • Training existing employees on how to work with people with disabilities and the benefits of a diverse workforce

By Sara Khoja, Partner, Sarit Thomas, PSL, Clyde & Co and Charlotte Chedeville, Senior Project & Programme Manager, CIPD.We've partnered with Clyde & Co to deliver our regional Labour Law courses. The upcoming Labour Law courses include: UAE Labour Law (download course brochure) and KSA Labour Law (download course brochure). 

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