Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 430, which calls on the government to endorse the report of the panel on labour market opportunities for persons with disabilities, and to support the member for Brant in his efforts in putting forward this motion, about which I know he is quite passionate.
A few months ago we published this report, which showed possible courses of action and best practices in this regard. The panel gave us a solid business case that supported hiring people with disabilities and targeting our available resources to bring about better outcomes.
The panel gave us a solid business case that supported hiring people with disabilities and targeting our available resources to bring about better outcomes. The results are in the panel's report, “Rethinking Disability in the Private Sector”, which I urge all members and employers to read.
For example, it was found that accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace is not that expensive, that it can pay many dividends and that employees with disabilities have lower rates of absenteeism and staff turnover.
Canada is already experiencing a skills gap, and we have yet to face the demographic challenges of the baby boomers retiring en masse. Ensuring all Canadians are able to contribute their skills to the economy is vital to addressing this looming challenge.
Our image of the typical worker for a typical job, though, has substantially changed. Why? It is because we are not living in the world of typical any longer. We have the responsibility of designing our own destiny when it comes to our talent and our competitiveness. We should be asking what people can do, rather than whether they fit a traditional mould. We should ask what their capabilities are, not how we can accommodate their disabilities.
Our government gets that. There are many people with different types and degrees of physical, developmental and psychological disabilities who are willing and able to work. Despite our aging population and the looming labour skills shortages, we have been slow to tap into this wealth of talent. There are actually approximately 800,000 working-age Canadians with disabilities who are employable but have yet to find a job. Almost half of those individuals have a post-secondary education.
It is clear that the education, skills and talents of many Canadians with disabilities are not being maximized, nor are these individuals getting a chance to actually have a fulfilling career. This is important because we know that having a job gives people a sense of dignity, a sense of independence. We know that people with disabilities can be real assets to their employers.
What can we do to get more people with disabilities into the workforce? The fact is that people with disabilities do not take a job for granted. They are often the best and hardest working employees, and they improve both the productivity and the morale of all the others in their workplace.
Take, for example, the Toronto Tim Hortons where employees with disabilities have proven to be a tremendous asset, an asset not only because they do the work well but because they are giving the business a relative competitive advantage.
The fast food industry has an average turnover rate of 75%, a huge turnover rate. However, this Tim Hortons has a turnover rate of only 35%, creating a significant amount of stability for this local business owner.
People with disabilities are used to overcoming problems and finding ingenious ways to cope with everyday tasks. They also tend to be more flexible in their thinking, and that is what makes them valuable to businesses and their need to innovate.
Let me quote from the chair of the panel on labour market opportunities for people with disabilities, Kenneth Fredeen: “There is a strong business case to be made for businesses hiring people with disabilities”.
From personal experience dealing with the incorporation into the labour force of adolescents and young adults who have disabilities, I know that when they have that first opportunity to have a meaningful role in the labour market, to have their first job, they stick with it. They are diligent to it. They are focused on it, and they make sure they are meeting every expectation of their employer and also all the people they are serving in their role.
The release of the report could not have been more timely. With the baby boomers starting to retire, Canada is facing skills and labour shortages in many sectors. To meet this challenge, we need to ensure that our talent is at work, that everyone in the country is contributing toward our prosperity.
That is why our government is investing in training so that Canadians can get the skills employers need. Our government supports many programs to promote the full participation of people with disabilities across the country.
Let me highlight some of the items in economic action plan 2013 that have been announced and some very specific measures for job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
These initiatives would build upon the great work this panel has done.
We would extend the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities for one year and introduce a new generation of agreements in 2014. Our goal is to better meet the employment needs of businesses and the employment prospects for individuals with disabilities.
The opportunities fund for persons with disabilities would assist individuals with disabilities to prepare for, obtain and keep employment or become self-employed.
In addition, this opportunities fund will be redesigned to provide people with disabilities with more training options based on the skill sets employers are looking for and to become more responsive to labour market needs. Employers and community organizations will be involved in the design and implementation of specific projects.
We would extend the enabling accessibility fund, which supports capital costs for construction and renovations to improve physical accessibility for people with disabilities through projects that demonstrate community support, including workplace accommodation. This is something we have heard about all across the country. It is making sure that individuals, not just with physical handicaps but with other developmental disabilities, have opportunities to enter into a workplace in a free manner.
We also announced additional funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which will support research related to the labour market participation of people with disabilities.
Finally, our government would create the Canadian employers disability forum, recognizing the importance of engaging employers who are committed to promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workplace.
Economic action plan 2013 proposes to provide a temporary investment to support the creation of the Canadian employers disability forum, as recommended by the panel. The forum, an initiative led by Canadian businesses, would be managed by employers for employers, providing them the education, training and sharing of resources and best practices concerned with the hiring and retention of persons with disabilities.
This is something that is essential. We have heard from across the country about the need for employers to better understand how to include individuals with disabilities into their firms and into their employment, whether that be small or large firms, those focused on the service industry or in the trades. I think it is essential that employers have an opportunity to be better educated so that they can be more inclusive.
Under the leadership of the forum, employers would help to promote and further the invaluable contributions that persons with disabilities make to their businesses. This measure is a direct result of a recommendation by the panel.
Unfortunately, the opposition parties voted against many of these investments. It is difficult to understand how the opposition MPs can stand and talk about their parties' support for persons with disabilities when they have consistently voted against each of these investments.
As I have said before, Canada faces serious labour and skills shortages in many areas. These shortages are the most significant challenge to our success and competitiveness as a nation. That is why our government is focused on removing barriers to employment for people with disabilities and helping them get the right skills and the training they need. The private sector must also do its part to hire people with disabilities and create more inclusive work places.
We believe the report of the panel on labour market opportunities for persons with disabilities will get a lot of people opening their minds and seeing the potential for these employees.
I want to thank the member for Brant for bringing this motion forward. It has been an excellent vehicle for change, for education and for making sure that Canadians, particularly Canadian employers, know why this is such an important issue. Much of his hard work has been seen in the various measures brought forward in the budget as well as at our human resources committee, which has done a recent report on inclusiveness and making sure that individuals with disabilities can be included in the workplace.
I urge all members of this House to support this motion and to support the many actions our government has taken to support Canadians with disabilities to further their participation in the economy.
Once again, I want to commend the member for Brant for his excellent work on this motion and for bringing this important issue forward to Canadians and employers.