3. Disabled Workers, Employment Vulnerability and Labour Law

Date01 May 1987
Published date01 May 1987
AuthorBrian Doyle
Subject MatterHR & organizational behaviour
3. Disabled Workers,
Employment Vulnerability
and Labour Law
by Brian Doyle
Contemporary interest in vulnerable employment groups has focused on women,
ethnic minorities and the secondary labour market. Social discrimination, marginal
employment and low pay are the badges of vulnerability of these groups. As Section
2 shows, labour law's response to employment vulnerability has been piecemeal and
tangential with the result that progress towards the enjoyment of basic employment
rights by vulnerable workers has been slow and fortuitous[1]. People with disabilities
possess many of the traits of vulnerability shared by other disadvantaged groups but
receive only a footnote in the pages of labour law. This article records the developing
debate on the employment rights of disabled people and places it in the context of
the current analysis of employment vulnerability.
Disability and Employment
Disability is a physical or mental condition which substantially modifies daily life
functions but does not necessarily destroy the ability to work. Unlike racial or sexual
denominators, disability is not an immutable feature. It can originate in congenital
cause or by reason of accident or disease. Although disability can manifest itself at
any time, it is prevalent with age and variable in condition, degree and handicap.
Disabled People in the Labour Market
Information about disabled people and their labour market participation is fragmented.
It is probable that the size of the disabled population of working age has been seriously
underestimated in official statistics. Disabled people may represent as much as 12
per cent of the economically active population[2]. Government research in progress
is expected to cast further light on this issue. More apparent, however, is the
disadvantaged status of disabled people in the labour market[3]. The unemployment
rate for disabled people may be double that for the general population and they are
heavily represented amongst the long-term unemployed. The impact of unemployment
is felt at all ages and across all conditions of disability, but the connection between
disability and occupational class, suggesting that disabled people are over-represented
among semi-skilled, unskilled and manual workers, does not alleviate the disadvantage
of disabled workers at a time of recession, structural unemployment and the advent
of technological change.
When in employment, disabled people do not necessarily escape the incidents of
vulnerability[4]. Many disabled people experience a reduced menu of career
opportunities as their skills are undervalued by employers. Disability has been shown
to restrict working hours and overtime earnings. For an increasing number of disabled
workers, homeworking, part-time employment and other forms of atypical employment

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