Towards inclusive workplaces

February 4, 2024

A mid-term review of the Pakistan National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights reveals that more needs to be done to empower differently abled people

Towards inclusive workplaces


ith the 2024 elections only a few days away, promises are being made by mainstream political parties regarding major challenges facing Pakistan. Once again, persons with disabilities are among the marginalised groups wondering whether these elections will lead to any change in their lives or not.

As political parties promise 10 million jobs for the youth, youths with disabilities struggle to achieve their share of jobs.

A 2022 Labour Market Assessment says that the youth with disabilities often face barriers such as employers lacking confidence in their abilities. This creates a significant hurdle for their integration into the workforce.

The issues they face in getting employed are systemic. Their literacy rate is low due to hurdles they face in accessing education, with only a small percentage completing secondary and higher education. This diminishes their chances of formal sector employment. Their dreams of contributing to the economic development of the country and being recognised as useful citizens instead of a burden, remain unfulfilled.

The exclusion of persons with disabilities from the job market is mainly attributed to factors such as insufficient skills and education, societal attitudes, employer policies, cultural barriers, infrastructural obstacles and a lack of awareness among both people with disabilities and employers.

The UNDP estimates that around 6.2 percent of Pakistanis have some form of disability, though other sources suggest a higher figure. In Pakistan, the projected number of people with disabilities is approximately 5.035 million, surpassing the populations of countries like Norway, New Zealand, Lebanon and Kuwait. Human Rights Watch notes a wide-ranging estimate of 3.3 million to 27 million people living with disabilities in the country.

Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011. The government is also committed to ILO conventions and Sustainable Development Goals in this regard.

In September 2020, the country enacted the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2020, which prohibits disability-based discrimination, ensures reasonable accommodations and establishes a council on the rights of persons with disabilities and a special disability court.

Provincial laws, such as the Sindh Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities Act 2018 and the Balochistan Persons with Disabilities Act No II of 2017, along with policies like the Accessibility Code 2006, also exist. These legislations guarantee equal access to education, healthcare, non-discriminatory employment, social protection, accessible environments and transportation, promoting inclusion and participation in various aspects of society.

However, effective implementation faces challenges such as lack of awareness, insufficient resources, institutional priorities and societal attitudes. Beyond policy initiatives and structural improvements, fostering inclusion is crucial for mainstreaming differently-abled people.

The first five-year Pakistan National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights (2021 to 2026) mentions “equal opportunity, gender-based discrimination and inclusion of vulnerable groups and marginalised communities in the workplace” as one of its priority areas and proposes 7 actions at the federal and provincial levels including introducing a requirement for businesses to create an internal equal opportunity committee that receives and conducts inquiries into complaints regarding discriminatory practices in hiring and wage gaps. The action has to be taken in pursuance of the Labour Policy 2010.

Another commitment included encouraging businesses to conduct mandatory training for personnel in managerial positions on anti-discrimination and equality at the workplace with a focus on anti-harassment, equal opportunity, workplace security and maternity leave/ pay.

In a workshop, organised by the Special Talent Exchange Programme, with the support of UNDP Pakistan, to conduct a mid-term review of the Pakistan National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights with regards to anti-discrimination efforts to support the rights of marginalised communities, the participants believed that much needed to be done by stakeholders to achieve the NAP targets.

The workshop was aimed at helping the Ministry of HumanRights assess advancements achieved and identifying persisting gaps in therealisation of NAP targets with a primary focus on addressing the pressing issue of inclusive employment opportunities for marginalised groups, particularly directing attention to individuals from transgender, minority and indigenous communities, along with persons with disabilities.

The workshop participants demanded that the private sector proactively open doors for persons with disabilities and minority groups, fostering an inclusive and equitable workplace environment and a major part of the employment belongs to the private sector.

They said that empowering marginalised people in the workplace involves creating an inclusive environment that values diversity, respects individual identities and provides equal opportunities for personal and professional growth. They also demanded the private sector to adopt a human rights-based approach rather than a charity-based approach.

Recommendations coming out of the review included seeking out platforms used by indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, transgender, religious and other minorities at the time of hiring and encouraging volunteer programmes with minorities, women, transgender, disabilities and indigenous communities as part of the corporate social responsibility or community engagement programmes.

The review report urged the private sector to reflect diversity and inclusion demographics in communications and publications; ensure website images reflect the multicultural aspects adopted and promoted by the organization; besides displaying posters describing how every employee can contribute to an inclusive workplace. The review also called for approving a budget for ergonomic workspaces with accessibility built into the design not as a later add-on.

People with disabilities are generally perceived as a subject of corporate social responsibility instead of being included in the cooperate sector. Some organisations have funds to give them charity but lack initiatives that can enable them to become part of the economic activity, utilising their talent and giving them their due right. Strategic efforts are needed for their meaningful inclusion in the job market.

The writer is a reporter for The News International

Towards inclusive workplaces