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In this paper we examine the range of policies within New Zealand that aim to integrate and reintegrate people with disabilities(2) into the workforce. During the 1990s there has been growing interest in the participation of people with disabilities within the workforce. We attempt a critical assessment of the directions disability employment policy has taken in recent years and ask whether this direction has benefited people with disabilities.

The paper is structured in three parts. First, we outline the recent history of the pressures and rationales that have encouraged policy shifts, including the wider socio-economic trends and associated policy developments of the last decade. Second, we describe the themes that have emerged from disability employment policy and use specific policy examples to illustrate the changes. Within this thematic approach we critically examine a range of such policy initiatives as the inclusion of disability in the Human Rights Act, incentive-based employment approaches, policies for service provision (training, placement and rehabilitation), and persuasion policies. Third, the paper examines the existing research evidence on outcomes of these policy initiatives, and concludes by suggesting a series of key research questions.


Ensuring employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups has taxed the minds of policy makers across industrialised countries, particularly since the economic tribulations of the 1970s. Initially, attention focused on the impact of recession and restructuring on the labour market position of women and ethnic groups (OECD 1976, Maori Economic Development Commission 1985). The position of people with disabilities was slower to gain policy attention but, in common with other OECD countries, is now firmly on the New Zealand policy agenda (Thornton and Lunt 1997). Initially, policies for people with disabilities were regarded primarily from a health perspective. Thus policy concern focused on issues such as containment and compensation in the form of segregated sheltered employment, day centres and long-term benefit provision. The Department of Social Welfare had primary responsibility for vocational programmes for people with disabilities. In recent years there has been support for mainstream employment, and disability employment policy has shifted to being a labour market concern of ensuring opportunities and participation.

A number of reasons explain this recent policy shift. First, organisations and coalitions of people with disabilities have highlighted disability issues and critiqued the ways traditional organisations and charities have represented people with disabilities (Hawker 1996). Second, previously invisible sectors of the disability community, including individuals with psychiatric illness and learning disabilities, have demanded the right to speak for themselves and for policy debates to be inclusive of their needs and aspirations (Tennant 1996).

Third, research has highlighted the particular disadvantage that people with disabilities face across a range of spheres -- social, economic, cultural and political (Statistics NZ 1997). In relation to employment for example, paid labour remains central to an individual's self-worth, provides the most likely route out of poverty, and enables participation in wider social life. The 1996 Household Disability Survey has documented the fact that people with disabilities are over-represented in statistics on low income and unemployment (Statistics NZ 1997).

Fourth, and more fundamentally, there has been a questioning of how disability should be conceptualised and defined. In this reappraisal of disability it is suggested that disability is a relationship between individuals and their society (Oliver 1990, Sullivan 1991). Hence disability is not something that any person "has", rather disability and the social disadvantage it entails are created and/or exacerbated by the social, economic, cultural and political organisation of society.

These developments present significant challenges for policy and practice. They require policy makers, professionals and academics to work in partnership with people with disabilities (Hawker 1996). Radically re-defining what disability actually is, and how we should conceptualise it, results in a range of alternative policy responses. For example, if we focus on systems rather than individuals we are less likely to perceive someone being a wheelchair user as the "problem". Rather the problem is created and/or exacerbated by whether transport systems and the built environment are able to accommodate wheelchair use. Similarly, if we identify structural inflexibility in the benefit system for those wishing to take on part-time employment, we are less likely to identify the "problem" as being an individual's inability to work full hours.(3) Crucially, people with disabilities become key stakeholders in helping to identify appropriate policy responses.

While this new social paradigm has influenced the development of disability employment policy, there have also been other economic, social and political currents that have influenced the policy environment. Since the late 1980s successive governments have implemented a programme of economic deregulation, restructuring and social reform which has produced a number of significant changes in social and economic policies. The general effects in the disability area of these policy changes have been the restructuring of Disability Support Services (DSS) (Pernice et al. 1996a). The government considered that the provision of services in New Zealand had developed over many years in an ad hoc manner, which had resulted in an uneven distribution of services and in a variety of different access criteria. Further, many services were funded by "demand driven" budgets which did not provide incentives for resources to be used efficiently (Ministry of Health 1992).

Therefore the intention of the restructuring was to provide a more flexible system of service delivery which would be more efficient, cost effective and accountable. The reform was premised on a separation between service provider and funder in a similar way to the health sector reforms. This created a competitive bidding system to induce efficiencies, but which posed considerable challenges to service providers and difficulties for some service recipients (Pernice et al. 1996b).

Another significant effect of both the new social paradigm and the involvement of people with disabilities in policy responses has been the 1996 review of purchasing of vocational services for people with disabilities, which resulted in the funding arrangements being mainstreamed. In July 1997, placement into open employment was transferred from the New Zealand Community Funding Agency (NZCFA)(4) to the New Zealand Employment Service (NZES). In July 1998 responsibility for purchasing vocational programmes, supported employment and training shifted from the Department of Social Welfare and from NZCFA to NZES. These have since been assigned to Work and Income NZ (WINZ). The remainder of vocational services for people with disabilities (remaining vocational services, daily activities, sheltered work and vocational training) are being transferred in July 1999.

Government position papers have stated an interest in more than the question of service efficiency. Their objectives include promoting "welfare to work" and reducing welfare "dependency", and increasing individual obligation and participation (Department of Social Welfare 1996a, 1996b). As the conceptual and economic aspects of policy are developed simultaneously, governments have a clear fiscal interest in reducing the number of long-term beneficiaries and lowering public spending. This has meant some cuts in benefits, as well as a general tightening of eligibility criteria for these benefits, and for adaptations, equipment and services.

People with disabilities are also not immune to wider changes that are occurring in the national economic system. There has been a radical restructuring of labour markets and the national economy. The expectations and aspirations of economic policy have fundamentally altered. Successive governments have eschewed commitment to full employment, although ameliorating and alleviating long-term unemployment is a stated concern. Global economic recession and restructuring, combined with domestic economic policy responses, have resulted in the dilution of employment rights and security for most workers.

One result has been a changing labour market and a growth in non-standard employment opportunities. This includes work with the following attributes: part-time (which may involve a very small number of hours); based on short-term contracts; seasonal or temporary; self-employed; located in the service sector; homeworking or tele-working; flexible hours; requiring employees to be functionally flexible and undertake ongoing training and re-skilling; rewarded under local wage agreements (Department of Social Welfare 1996a, Lunt and Thornton 1998). The key words are change and flexibility; individuals will expect to change jobs or careers far more than previously.

The 1991 Employment Contracts Act (ECA) raised issues about the ability of workers with a disability to negotiate contracts from what is generally considered to be a less than comparable position of strength (Bascand and Frawley 1991). Pre-1991, collective negotiations at the national level affected six out of ten workers and all employees -- whether union members or not -- were covered (ibid.). The ECA has radically shifted the balance of the bargaining process in favour of employers. It is now easier for employers to engage workers on a temporary, fixed-term or casual basis. Under the ECA, collective negotiations of contracts have no preferred status, and the employer can choose to restrict collective negotiations to the enterprise as opposed to the occupation or industry.

According to Boxall (1997), since the ECA there has been a decentralisation of wage bargaining, declining unions, growth of individual contracts, as well as increased experimentation with more flexible labour practices (e.g. multi-skilling and performance-related pay). The overall findings of one piece of labour market research are "that bargaining arrangements under the ECA have done nothing to encourage the stability of employment and have, in fact, encouraged the casualisation of labour" (CTU 1997:20), while according to Dalziel (1997) the Act has had a negative impact on women, particularly if they are in the low-paid sector.

The ECA and wider economic changes have contributed to a weakening of unions. Union membership has fallen from a density of 43.5% in December 1985 to 21.7% in December 1995 (Crawford et al. 1996). Although it is debatable whether unions were ever concerned with disability issues (such as disability rights and EEO issues) they are now pre-occupied with job losses, redundancy and loss of services. This is particularly the case, for example, in the public sector (Walsh and Dickson 1994). These wider changes may hold particular challenges for people with disabilities who are attempting to gain and retain positions within the labour market.


We can identify a number of common themes in how disability employment policy has changed. These include a focus on individual rights, the use of incentives, greater marketisation of provision, the use of voluntarism rather than imposing obligations, and fiscal restraint.

Individual Rights

The focus on individual rights to achieve integration and reintegration into employment of people with disabilities has been translated in New Zealand into anti-discrimination legislation. The Human Rights Act 1993 came into force from 1 February 1994, replacing earlier human rights legislation, the Race Relations Act 1971 and Human Rights Commission Act 1977. Disability was newly added to the 1993 Act as a criterion on which discrimination is prohibited. The Act also prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, colour, race, ethnic or national origins, age, political opinions, employment status, family status and sexual orientation.

It is a breach of the Act to discriminate against a person with a disability in terms of procedures and practices for recruitment, promotion, dismissal and retirement. This law does not oblige employers to retain and/or employ or re-employ people with disabilities, but it protects the individual from discriminatory practices because of disability. Of the 241 complaints opened in the year ended 30 June 1996, only 8% related to disability discrimination in employment (Human Rights Commission 1996). The Act may have raised considerable expectations within the disability community, although experience points to a low awareness and utilisation of the Act in practice (Human Rights Commission 1996).

The Human Rights Act may facilitate changes to particular worksites rather than more general obligations to change environments.(5) It is unclear how effective the Act has been in encouraging entry to work. The Act assumes individuals are suitably qualified and experienced, and have sufficient knowledge about the existence and workings of the legislation to seek redress in situations of discrimination. This will not always be the case. Moreover, it is difficult to prove discrimination in processing job applications, and the Act may be more effective in preventing dismissal once hired. For example, emerging evidence concerning the Americans With Disabilities Act 1990 suggests that this Act is more likely to enable those with jobs to retain employment than to facilitate entry to work (Thornton and Lunt 1997).

A disadvantage for the individual is that he/she must initiate a complaint, which can place a considerable burden on the person making a claim. The complainant must feel empowered and have the emotional resources to drive a process that may be time consuming, adversarial, and uncertain with regard to its outcomes. It may also have negative effects on employer / employee relationships. The process would seem to favour persons who are better informed, which may prevent many cases of discrimination from being addressed. However, there is more research to be done in considering the impact of the disability components of the Human Rights Act, and the nature of any improvements it will be able to deliver in terms of employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Use of Incentives

There is a range of financial incentives available to employers and employees, which have various rationales: to "compensate" for reduced productivity, to provide for adaptation of the workplace or work, and to act as temporary rewards. There are also incentive provisions from which people with disabilities may benefit, although these incentives are not specifically aimed at people with disabilities.

The Modification Grant Scheme offers assistance up to a level of $10,000 to employees and employers for special equipment, improvements to access, and changes to the workplace. Since it began in 1980 levels of take-up have fluctuated although it still exists as a discrete fund (personal communication, New Zealand Employment Service, Wellington). Job Support makes individualised assistance available to purchase support services needed by a person with a disability to work in open employment and to allow appropriate rates of pay. Examples of funded services include job coaches, mentoring, on-the-job attendant care, interpreter services, special equipment, and disability awareness training for coworkers. It can also provide a temporary or long-term wage subsidy to compensate for a worker's lower productivity or the extra supervision or training required. It was used by 582 people in 1995/6 (Awan 1997), providing a maximum per annum allowance of $16,000.

Self-Start Business Funding offers support to enable people with disabilities to become financially self-sufficient, and most applicants are beneficiaries. (The mainstream equivalent is the Enterprise Allowance.). In 1995/96, 214 out of the 1,693 who applied and received funding were people with disabilities. The funding contract for Self-Start Funds was transferred from the Department of Social Welfare to the Department of Labour on 1 July 1997.

Training Support is administered by the Department of Labour (Able Update 1997). Applicants for Training Support must present a planned individual programme aimed at working to improve future employment prospects. Training Support is reviewable annually for a period of three years, is not means-tested, and is payable at a maximum weekly rate of $100. Training Support and Self-Start are used to meet costs of disability only (personal communication, WINZ 1999). Job Support, Training Support and Self-Start are all contracted out to Workbridge.

People with disabilities are using all mainstream employment incentive provisions including Job Plus, Job Start, Job Connection, Enterprise Allowance Scheme, Community Task Force and Taskforce Green. Job Plus, for example, is a temporary wage subsidy for full-time workers and in 1995/6 3,500 out of 21,000 placements were occupied by people with disabilities (Awan 1997).

Reform of the tax-benefit system in 1996 also provided employment incentives, allowing sickness and invalids beneficiaries to earn and retain additional income on top of their benefit entitlement. For most invalids beneficiaries the following abatement schedule applies: for the first $100 per week from personal earnings (additional to the benefit) there is no abatement. For the second $100 per week from personal earnings there is an abatement of 30c in the dollar (i.e. benefits are withdrawn at 30c for each dollar earned). Earnings over $200 per week are abated at 70c in the dollar. (Eventually, as personal earnings increase, the accumulating abatement outstrips the size of the Invalids Benefit payment, and the benefit ceases. The point at which this occurs depends on the size of that payment, which in turn depends on individual circumstances such as age, marital status and whether or not the beneficiary has dependants.)

There is no longer a Sickness Benefit for new applications and grants, so these people go onto the Community Wage (CW). People on the CW may have a temporary deferral from reciprocal obligations for a variety of reasons, including sickness, and the ordinary CW abatement rates will apply. Personal earnings up to $80 per week (additional to the benefit) are not abated. Personal weekly earnings over $80 per week have an abatement of 70c in the dollar. (Again, the point at which benefit ceases altogether varies according to personal circumstances.)

These changes have clearly been an attempt to encourage part-time working. However, there appears to be limited evidence on the effectiveness of incentives aimed at enabling people with disabilities to take and retain work opportunities. The Job Support Scheme appeared popular but is cash-limited, with the 1997 annual budget of $2 million running out halfway through the fiscal year (Coe and McIntosh 1997). Although employers may use job subsidies to recruit individuals, there is some anecdotal evidence that these people are not retained once the subsidy period has ended and some employers have then employed another person carrying a subsidy. Thus, it is important not only to help individuals to enter employment but also to ensure they maintain their position once there. Finally, there are also potential disincentives, such as "benefit traps" created by a range of financial and in-kind welfare benefits, as well as inflexible transport and care arrangements, all of which may mitigate against people pursuing part-time or full-time working opportunities.


There is a trend to marketise service provision. As highlighted previously, in line with reforms in a range of other welfare areas, the government has sought to distinguish funder, purchaser, and provider roles via the use of contracting for services (Boston 1995). Although services remain publicly funded, the reforms are premised on the belief that there are efficiency gains in splitting the purchaser and provider functions, and that competition between provider organisations will result in services being better able to meet clients' needs. Contracting may also provide a means of developing more culturally responsive services (Ratima et al. 1995).

Marketisation may also be viewed as the process of limiting the activities of state agencies, which includes elements of de-regulation. The Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation Insurance Corporation (ACC) provides vocational rehabilitation to people whose impairment is a result of personal injury caused by accident. There are a range of activities and services organised by the ACC for newly injured workers, including modification of work vehicles, Job Clubs, counselling, work trials, aids and adaptations. Arising from the Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation Insurance Amendment Act 1996, the Accredited Employers Scheme seeks to let bigger firms manage the claims procedure for workplace injuries, so lessening the role and intervention of ACC staff (Moore and Tennant 1997). This is an attempt to "privatise" insurance coverage of workplace injury, with a shrinking role for the state.

Furthermore, delivery of the accident compensation scheme will change significantly from 1 July 1999, although the scheme still remains 24-hour, no-fault and compulsory. ACC will no longer cover employers for their employees' workplace injuries. Instead, employers must choose a commercial insurer and the range of options includes the new State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) insurer called "@Work". Injuries to employees outside of work will continue to be covered by the ACC. The change seeks to encourage competition and choice among the range of insurance providers.

The NZCFA funded a variety of programmes to support the special needs of those with a disability to develop their ability for first-time entry to the workforce. This included vocational rehabilitation, supported employment and training programmes. The government has recently decided that the most appropriate arrangement for vocational services for people with disabilities is a progression towards mainstreaming the purchase of these services. In December 1997, Cabinet agreed to the transfer from NZCFA to NZES, on 1 July 1998, of supported employment and training for employers. These have since transferred to WINZ. In December 1998, Cabinet agreed that NZCFA's remaining programmes of vocational services -- vocational training, sheltered employment and daily activities -- be transferred to WINZ.

An illustration of the operation of marketisation can be seen in the two new approaches by providers of employment placement services. The first one is "Workbridge", which replaced the traditional vocational rehabilitation programme "The Rehabilitation League" and provides assistance to people with disabilities to help them move into mainstream employment. It is a national employment agency and has a clear market and business focus (Lavery 1996). The second group of service providers, who are linked by the umbrella organisation the Association for Supported Employment, is a network of private locally operated employment services which have adopted the supported employment programme.

Workbridge's distinguishing feature is its major focus on the needs of the employer. This is aimed at allowing it to be more effective in marketing the potential of people with disabilities as employees. Employers are recognised as the creator of job opportunities and their needs are recognised as crucial. All Workbridge offices would seem to have staff with some marketing skills. In contrast, the Supported Employment Programme providers focus on the individual job seeker with a disability, together with employer needs. They believe in placement into a real job first and provide long-term support to the individual (Bennie 1996). This long-term support can range from everyday presence in the work place for training and problem solving, to occasional telephone contact.

These contrasting approaches to service delivery mean that the marketing and business approach by Workbridge requires funding for training and placement, whereas the inclusive/support model of the Supported Employment Agencies requires finances for ongoing follow-up support that is individualised to ensure job retention. These two groupings compete for the same pool of public funding. Both approaches to service delivery for people with disabilities are accepted and funded; however, neither seems to have sufficient resources to provide effective services (Bennie, personal communication 1997). Workbridge has had to close smaller rural offices because of budget constraints.

At present there is no clear body of policy regarding the area of training, and competing service philosophies and competition for funding may lead to confusion. There is discontent with the lack of co-ordination between government agencies, lack of rationalisation of funding of the vocational support sector, and also the lack of a national policy. Significant changes with regard to aspects of legislation and practice in the short and medium term are very likely (Able Update 1998). WINZ has recently dedicated resources to the development of a national policy framework including a purchasing strategy for the sector.


Certain aspects of disability employment policy have been devised under the assumption that some issues are better dealt with by firms having discretion over whether and how to act rather than by imposing obligations or legislative requirements. Hence, public policy includes voluntary initiatives, for example, persuading employers that they should look to make employment opportunities available for a range of people with disabilities. (Also, the 1990 private sector legal responsibility to develop equal employment opportunity policy and programmes was repealed in 1991 by the incoming National Government.)

Voluntary initiatives to encourage employers to recruit and promote people with disabilities can take two directions. Firstly, they can aim to persuade firms that there is "business sense" in employing people with disabilities. A variant of this is the recent thrust towards "diversity management" in human resource management, which focuses on employing a diverse workforce so as to reflect the population and consumer profile (Institute for Personnel Development 1996). Secondly, the voluntary approach can be couched in terms of social responsibility with employers and trade unions having a responsibility to ensure employment opportunities are equitably distributed. Furthermore, the Human Rights Act can be said to provide a "practical reason" why voluntary EEO policies and programmes should be introduced.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to find examples of innovative EEO policies operating in the private sector for persons with disabilities. The EEO Trust, established by employers and government to promote EEO programmes and practices in the private sector, has a membership of over 200 organisations (mostly big employers). Their database, however, reveals little on EEO strategies for disabilities at the employer level. Hence, the policy of laissez faire within the area of disability employment policy may not be a particularly fruitful one for people with disabilities. Indeed, the increasingly competitive (or even aggressive) employment environment may encourage the idea that people with disabilities are less productive or require special treatment.

Fiscal Restraint

Fiscal restraint is observable across the range of approaches to disability employment policy. For example, the ACC legislation of 1992 can be seen as producing a "leaner and meaner scheme" (Palmer 1995).(6) It tightened the definition of "personal injury" and "accident" and specified detailed methods of calculating earnings-related compensation depending on the length of time off work. For some people, with no or reduced earnings in the earnings assessment period, this reduced the level of earnings-related compensation in the first year compared to the previous, more discretionary, environment. However, the ACC case load has increased in the years since its inception, particularly as new injuries and accidents are seen to come under its remit. The scheme was not devised with injuries from sexual abuse, nor with the new occupational injuries like OOS, in mind.

There are also criticisms about the way the scheme is currently being used: the New Zealand Employers Federation, for example, claims that 30,000 out of 60,000 long-term claimants in receipt of ACC are using the scheme as a "de facto unemployment scheme" (NZEF 1995). The newly trialed 1997 Work Capacity Assessment Procedure (ACC 1997) aims to reduce the tail of claimants and classify people as being fit for work even if there is no suitable work available (McClellan and Mainey 1997). The Government has determined that where they perceive the issue is one of unemployment rather than incapacity for work due to injury, the appropriate form of social assistance is through WINZ rather than through ACC.

The Invalids Benefit was tightened in 1995 (New Zealand Income Support Service, undated) and there is an ongoing review of the assessment procedure for this benefit. A new work capacity assessment procedure may be introduced in an attempt to ascertain whether individuals in receipt of a benefit have the capacity for work and can be subject to a work test. Invalids Benefit eligibility was changed again (1 September 1998) and the criteria of "permanency" and "severity" were defined (they had previously not been so defined). Permanent now means that the disability / injury / sickness is expected to last two or more years. Severity means the person cannot work more than 15 hours per week in open employment. The cost of aids and adaptations is being shifted onto individuals via the existence of waiting lists for services and the reluctance of the Lottery Grant to fund individual equipment requests. Funding constraints in a contracting environment encourage competition among organisations and do not facilitate co-operative working relationships. Attempts to tighten public expenditure in this area, as with education and health, may by implication shift responsibility onto individuals and families to supplement any service gaps and compensate for shortfalls.


The dominant themes that have emerged in disability employment policy during the 1990s are those of individual rights, incentives, marketisation, voluntarism and fiscal restraint. Describing these themes is a fruitful exercise in that it helps us to understand more clearly the rationales behind policy. The more significant task, however, is to explore what the various initiatives based on these themes deliver in terms of policy outcomes. Do they assist people with disabilities to enter, continue, retain and return to work? The overall effectiveness of these directions is inherently difficult to evaluate, as debate is based on process (a collection of individual actions or inaction) rather than outcomes. In most cases there is a dearth of research evidence -- evidence that is essential for a more definitive discussion about the effectiveness of policy.

Before discussing particular thematic approaches it is important to remember that there are broader considerations which affect disability employment policy. In the first instance, for example, one might be sceptical about the likely success of such policy given the wider economic background, particularly how the changed nature of the labour market makes joining employment more difficult for all potential employees. Particular issues about which we know little are the impacts of wider labour market shifts (for example the growth in non-standard employment and changes generated by the Employment Contracts Act) on people with disabilities.

Furthermore, when considering the effectiveness of policy we must also ensure that policy in a range of other areas including housing, care services and transport, as well as in the benefits system, does not erect significant barriers and impede employment success. In the final analysis it may be that disability employment policy requires a range of objectives, and inclusive policy development might need to look at a range of options that includes supported employment, sheltered employment, open alternatives, and what is known in the UK as the "Third Sector".(7) Our discussion here can only be a contribution to the much wider debate, and people with disabilities themselves must have a significant stake in the appropriate definitions and understandings of "work".

With these caveats in mind, what evidence is there concerning employment outcomes for people with disabilities?

Individual Rights

As we pointed out in our earlier discussion on the Human Rights legislation, it would be difficult to prove that a focus on individual rights has either provided more jobs for people with disabilities or reduced levels of discrimination in employment. In addition, any indirect benefits of such legislation are likely to be even more difficult to measure (for example, the role of legislation in changing employer attitudes). The only data available are the results of the 1996 National Household Survey, which showed that among people of workforce age (15-64) 20%, reported that they had a disability. Of the 20% who reported a disability only 40% were in the workforce, in comparison to 70% among people who did not report a disability (Statistics NZ 1997). Without equivalent data gathered prior to the policy changes it is impossible to know whether employment among people with disabilities has changed. However, there seems no reason to believe that employment has dramatically increased.

The policies that focus on individual rights impose few obligations on employers who hire people with disabilities, and even these, in practice, are limited. For example, Section 56 of the State Sector Act 1988 makes provision for equal employment opportunities in the public sector (in particular Maori, ethnic or minority groups, women, and persons with disabilities). However, it is not clear what top-level commitment to EEO represents in terms of front-line practices. There is a lack of disability data held across departments and concern about confidentiality issues and the workings of the Privacy Act (New Zealand Employers Federation and EEO Trust 1993, Stewart 1996, State Services Commission 1997). It may also be that there is competition within EEO groupings and that emphasis may be placed on securing opportunities for other groups.

Also, wider economic restructuring has knock-on effects for such policies. For example, changes in the size and shape of the public sector(8) result in less momentum being generated within the public services for such recruitment policies (Robyn Hunt cited in Department of Labour 1996). Thus, another key question emerges about how the recruitment and promotion of people with disabilities are faring within a reformed and transformed public sector.

In a similar vein, the Building Act 1991 aims to secure reasonable access to public buildings by people with disabilities. When read alongside earlier pieces of legislation this means that buildings must not be constructed in such a way as to prevent people with disabilities from undertaking work of which they are physically capable (Hay 1992). The Act provides greater powers of enforcement but according to the Building Standards Authority, many building owners and designers are trying to avoid the requirements of the Act (BIA 1993, Hardie 1996). The Barrier Free Trust, a Trust offering consultancy advice on barrier-free environments, is called to advise on public places rather than workplaces. Thus, in practice, the outcomes may be less impressive than could be expected from an initial reading of the legislation and the obligations it imposes. However, for this particular initiative evidence remains anecdotal rather than comprehensive.


Financial incentives are aimed at encouraging decisions at the margin, both by employers and employees, to facilitate successful employment outcomes. What evidence do we have about whether incentives encourage individuals with different impairments and work histories to enter, retain and return to work? For example, do particular initiatives such as changes to the tax-benefit system encourage individuals to take part-time work opportunities? Similarly, do Job Support and Self-Start Business Funding schemes result in permanent positions? It would be valuable to explore how employees and employers perceive and respond to such incentives, and the effects that they have on employment outcomes. Similarly, it is important to know how particular initiatives fit with more holistic "decisions" around taking up work and understandings about the main bridges and barriers facilitating and preventing access to the labour market for people with disabilities (cf. Lunt and Thornton 1996). This may include transport, care and other domestic arrangements.


The programmes in place are new enough that their effectiveness has not been researched conclusively. However, job-placement service-providers have indicated that their marketing activity has helped reduce discrimination against people with disabilities by employers. The evaluation of the new DSS framework was similarly inconclusive, as no pre-reform assessment measures were taken and when the study occurred not all reforms had been fully implemented (Pernice et al. 1996b). In their study, service providers generally stated that the new contracting system had resulted, from their point of view, in a more accountable and effective provision of services to their clients. But they also reported that the added burden of paperwork and time spent negotiating contracts detracted considerably from direct service provision hours and job satisfaction. With respect to deregulation, how is the Accredited Employers Scheme that was discussed earlier faring in retaining workers within their positions and encouraging early return to work? Comprehensive research would be valuable in ensuring exploration of a range of possible employment outcomes that may arise from these "marketisation" measures.


With regard to voluntarism a series of questions emerge. These include the relative success of approaches that rely on the goodwill of employers and other labour market partners, and whether firms view employment of people with disabilities in terms of business sense, EEO policy, or social responsibility. It would be useful to conduct an audit of firms' EEO disability policies to show and explore innovative EEO measures, seeing how these vary across different sized enterprises. Similarly, to what extent and how are unions working to ensure people with disabilities fare equitably in the labour market?

Fiscal Restraint

Obviously reducing cost does not in itself constitute a comprehensive policy outcome. Rather the issue must be considered in broader terms of efficiency. Research should explore the outcomes of attempts to redefine eligibility for ACC, sickness and invalids benefits. To what extent are the new assessment processes effective in facilitating people's entry or return to the labour market? What happens to individuals when they are no longer deemed eligible for particular benefits, and are expected to search for work? Moreover, how are efficiency and effectiveness balanced against other considerations, such as perceived entitlement to income support and the objectives of particular insurance and income replacement schemes? Hence, it would seem that consideration of whether fiscal restraint has been successful must involve a three-pronged exploration of efficiency, effectiveness and equity.


The issues outlined above need to be explored if we are to provide more definitive answers to questions around disability employment policy. In summary, a growing body of research, as well as direct pressure from within the disability community, has encouraged a re-examination of disability employment policy. The main themes guiding policy appear to be a focus on individual rights, the use of financial incentives, the marketisation of service provision, voluntarism and fiscal restraint. Our analysis of the impact of these approaches does not give us great cause for optimism that current policy will deliver the employment outcomes for all groups that we would wish. An interesting issue, however, is the extent to which the demands and focus of the disability sector seem to fit with governmental shifts towards individualism, choice, opportunities and control. Perhaps a closer look at policy outcomes (some of which we have discussed above), and a consideration of what successful outcomes of disability employment policy might look like, could help clarify any common ground and disagreements between the stakeholders -- funders, service providers and employers, as well as people with disabilities themselves.

We would also argue for the need to commit to a programme of research aimed at measuring those outcomes.

(1) The descriptive and empirical material we draw upon was collected for an earlier research project and published as R. Pernice and N. Lunt (1998) International Research Project on Job Retention and Return to Work Strategies for Disabled Workers: Study report New Zealand, International Labour Organisation, Geneva. Thanks to Grant Duncan for his comments on an earlier draft of this article and to the Journal reviewers who made extensive comments and suggestions on earlier drafts. Particular thanks are due to Michelle Gosse who co-ordinated responses to earlier drafts.

(2) Throughout this article the authors use "people with disabilities" rather than "disabled people". This is in line with predominant New Zealand usage. Our understanding of disability, however, is firmly located within the social model of disability as a relationship between impairment and environment.

(3) Ed.: In this context, it may be useful to clarify that, in fact, the 1 July 1996 change to the abatement regime has improved the returns from part-time employment for people on Invalids Benefit.

(4) On 1 January 1999, the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Service was integrated with NZCFA to form the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Agency (CYPFA). On 1 October 1999 CYPFA will shift from the Department of Social Welfare to form the Department of Child, Youth and Whanau Services.

(5) Also, the Health & Safety in Employment Act 1993 deals with health and safety issues in the workplace and sought to achieve excellence and best practice. Unlike the Building Act 1991, it does not specifically address disability and nor does it create obligations to make workplaces more user-friendly and accessible.

(6) However, arguably, it still retains the fundamental principles with which it was brought into existence.

(7) The growing strength of the disability movement in the UK has led to a rethinking of the traditional approaches to employment. In the emerging "Third Sector", organisations of people with disabilities are frequently acting as employers providing positions or roles that may be paid or unpaid. Examples of "Third Sector" provision includes advice services, counselling services and direct service provision, as well as disability arts and specialist media services (cf. Lunt and Thornton 1998).

(8) In March 1984 the public service was 66,000 but was down to a level of 33,000 by December 1994.


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Neil Lunt
School of Social Policy and Social Work
Massey University at Albany

Regina Pernice
School of Health Sciences
Massey University
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Author:Pernice, Regina
Publication:Social Policy Journal of New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jul 1, 1999

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