UN labor agency says Vietnam losing big by not employing disabled people

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Vietnam is losing 3 percent of its GDP by not employing its disabled population, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said in a recent report.

Since very few disabled people have regular incomes and most of them are excluded from the formal employment systems, they have to resort mostly to family networks for jobs, it said late last month.

It came up with the 3 percent figure following a study titled "The price of exclusion: The economic consequences of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work" which quantifies macroeconomic losses related to the exclusions in 10 low- and middle-income developing countries in Asia (China, Thailand, and Vietnam) and Africa (Ethiopia, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe).

The author, Sebastian Buckupit, said he examined three factors underlying these losses.

"One factor is labor productivity losses due to disabling social and physical environments that makes people with disabilities less productive than they could be.

"A second is the gap between the potential and the actual productivity of disabled persons.

"A third is the difference between unemployment and inactivity rates of non-disabled people and people with disabilities. Together, these factors help to highlight the cost of excluding people with disabilities from the workplace."

Statistics from the Vietnam Household Living Standard Survey showed that more than 15 percent of Vietnam's population have a disability.

An ILO report quoted disabled people as saying they have encountered discrimination from employers and failed to find a job for years despite having a university diploma.

Ngo Thi Oanh, a graduate of the Hanoi Foreign Language University, said she was recruited only by foreign NGOs, several years after graduation, and for short-term projects to help other disabled people.

But since the projects ended in 2008 she has been jobless.

The 38-year-old, who needs a wheelchair due to brain damage as a child, said she always asks a company on the phone if they hire disabled people, and they always say yes, but it is never a yes when they see her.

"Any time I go to a company to submit my application, people stare at me like I am alien, some guards even refuse to let me in."

She said employment has become a dream beyond the reach of many disabled people in Vietnam.

Nguyen Tuan Linh, 37, who is deaf, said the problem starts with schooling when disabled people receive little support.

Vietnam's Disability Law entitles disabled people to extra help and support to integrate in the community, but it is hardly implemented with few schools being designed exclusively for disabled people, he said.

A secondary school teacher for hearing-impaired students, he said he is the only deaf person in northern Vietnam with a college diploma.

"School is really hard since we have to try many times more than [others]," he said.

He himself only managed to finish high school at 26 instead of the normal 18.

The UN said the literacy rate for disabled people in Vietnam is 73 percent in urban areas and 63 percent in the countryside compared to the national rate of 95 percent.

ILO experts said Vietnam needs specific laws and policies to support disabled people and they need to be enforced effectively.

They said disabled people need to be trusted by the public and given a convenient environment to work in.

The ILO said Monday it would cooperate with the Irish AIDS to provide more than US$250,000 by the end of next year to help improve employment chances for disabled people in Vietnam.

Nearly $6,000 will go towards legal research at the Hanoi University of Law, and $10,000 to help with teaching and implementing the Disability Law.

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