Tapping the disabled workforce

11th of November 2016 Article by Lotte Printz
Tapping the disabled workforce

Having a disability does not rule out a cleaning job. Scandinavian correspondent Lotte Printz gives us this report from Sweden.

If you walk into a burger joint in, say, Stockholm to buy your morning coffee or takeaway breakfast, don’t be surprised if you bump into a disabled floor sweeper. Cleaning restaurant and kitchen floors in large burger restaurants is one of the jobs that people with disabilities are likely to perform in Sweden.

And the number of companies taking on people with functional impairments is rising in the Swedish labour market. In fact, the number has already risen nearly 20 per cent since 2012 and 12 per cent in the past two years alone.

Much of this rise can be explained by customer expectations. Customers want companies to take social responsibility (CSR). And they gladly do – especially when looked upon favourably by their customers.

Meeting this customer requirement tops the list of advantages of this kind of recruitment and commitment according to a survey carried out by Swedish Samhall, a large state-owned company that hires people having reduced work abilities.

Since 2007 Samhall itself has had an agreement with the Max burger chain where people with a mental or mild physical disability clean, among other tasks, restaurant and kitchen floors in 94 of the chain’s restaurants in the mornings.

Due to their limited abilities, the employees do not and cannot work full time. Also, they may perform their jobs more slowly than other employees, but Samhall compensates for that by often doubling the number of disabled people. And is, in return, compensated by the state for additional costs. It is not allowed to lower the wages.

Talking to Rent, the trade journal for the Swedish cleaning sector, sales director of Samhall Göran Olinder explains many of these people have never had a proper paid job before.

“But I don’t think you can have more dedicated, enthusiastic employees. They know what it’s like being excluded and are therefore awfully pleased to have a job,” he says.

The whole Max contract came about when Max had difficulties recruiting ‘ordinary’ employees. Now it has found Samhall employees tend to stay on far longer than others in the same positions and is planning to offer 200 of the total 650 Samhall employees working in its restaurants permanent employment.

So when everybody seems to benefit from the arrangement, why did 49 per cent of the interview subjects in the said survey have no disabled groups among their employees? Ignorance of how to deal with them made the companies reluctant to hire people with disabilities.

In the Max-Samhall case, this has been solved by providing the Max management with special training on how to understand the difficulties the employees face in work situations.

“They will carry this knowledge for the rest of their lives. It comes down to entrusting the right employee with the right tasks and paying attention to opportunities, not problems,” says Kent Ravnborg, key account manager at Samhall and in charge of the Max contract.

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