Employers should tap government subsidies and hire people with disabilities: Zaqy Mohamad

(From left) Pan Pacific Hotels Group executive director Wee Wei Ling, Ms Loh Ai Lin, Minister of State for Manpower & National Development Zaqy Mohamad and Pan Pacific employee Danial Affandy, who is intellectually disabled and operates and maintains the hotel's cleaning equipment. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Business at the Pan Pacific Hotels Group has taken a significant hit from the coronavirus outbreak , but it remains committed to hiring people with disabilities, said its executive director of assets, lifestyle and corporate social responsibility, Ms Wee Wei Ling.

It now has 26 employees with disabilities working in different roles, from housekeeping to administrative work, in four of its hotels and one serviced accommodation here.

Another nine people with disabilities are undergoing traineeship this year - instead of five as originally planned.

"It (business) is very bad. But we will still continue and not KIV (hold back) this project (to hire people with disabilities). This is part of our long-term sustainability project," Ms Wee said. "We believe they are part of us and we should give them the chance to earn a living."

During the downturn, the group is sending its staff - both able-bodied and those with disabilities - for training, tapping on the Open Door programme, which encourages employers to hire persons with disabilities through training grants and job support services, among other things.

For example, up to 90 per cent of the course fees will be subsidised for firms which send staff to eligible training courses. From 1 July (2020), the subsidy will increase to 95 per cent.

Ms Wee spoke to reporters after Mr Zaqy Mohamad, the Minister of State for Manpower and National Development, toured Pan Pacific Singapore and spoke to its staff with disabilities on Wednesday afternoon (March 18).

After his visit, Mr Zaqy urged more employers to consider hiring persons with disabilities, given all the government incentives to help them do so. These include the new Enabling Employment Credit, where employers will get help to offset up to 20 per cent of an eligible disabled staff's salary, capped at $400 a month.

Earlier this month , Mr Zaqy announced these initiatives in Parliament during the debate on the Manpower Ministry's budget. The resident employment rate for people with disabilities is 28.6 per cent, while another 4.2 per cent are active job seekers.

When asked if the Manpower Ministry will continue to promote the hiring of people with disabilities during the economic slowdown, he said: "For sure, it is something we are going to push. I understand that some companies may find it difficult to cater to this but over time, if you look at the kind of subsidies and grants we have, you may find it useful and helpful, especially given some of the shortages we are seeing now with workers."

Last Wednesday, President Halimah Yacob launched the President's Challenge Enabling Employment Pledge and over 100 employers pledged to build a more inclusive workforce for those with disabilities.

The President's Office and the public service were the first signatories of the pledge, and others included the Pan Pacific Hotels Group.

Mr Danial Affandy, a 20-year-old who is intellectually disabled, has been working at the Pan Pacific Singapore since 2018. He operates and maintains cleaning equipment. He went through a six-month training stint and enjoys working at the hotel.

He said: "My colleagues are very good and I like to earn money."

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