ILO Newsroom – May 14, 2013

ILO News is produced by the Intronational Labor Organization


From China

Lifting the barrier of intellectual disabilities

There are almost 200 million persons with intellectual disabilities in the world. For many of them, finding a stable job represents a major challenge. In Li’s case, a little help has made a big difference.  

Feature | 13 May 2013

BEIJING (ILO News) – Li Chao is making marmite at the Wan Feng restaurant in Beijing’s Fengtai district. He is 27 years old but his intellectual disability has severely limited his development.  

Li has now worked at the restaurant for 3 years, earning around 1600 Yuan (US$260) a month, enough to support himself. But this was not always the case. Before having this opportunity, Li experienced many of the same difficulties that persons with intellectual disabilities encounter when looking for a stable job.  

Li’s parents both had intellectual disabilities and he was raised by his uncle, after his mother left home when he was a child. No school or training institution would accept him after elementary school but his uncle’s connections found him a job when he was 16. He worked as an elevator operator for 500 Yuan (US$80) a month but quit after becoming tired of pushing buttons every day. A long period of unemployment followed.  

“The teachers give us techniques on how to be a useful person for society.”     

The Beijing Fengtai District Lizhi Rehabilitation Centre (Lizhi Centre) – which works with the ILO – was to change things dramatically for Li, through its tailored training in social skills, literacy and maths, handicrafts, cooking, domestic service and other job market friendly skills.

“I like to go there, as the teachers give us techniques on how to be a useful person for society,” says Li.  

The job counselor at the Centre, Ms. Zou, remembers Li as very eager to learn. She recalls that on his first day he told her: “I need a job and I want to support my uncle.”  

On the job training  

The path to securing a job was not straightforward however and Li faced some difficulties when he started at the Wan Feng Restaurant. One of the challenges was how to talk and get along with other staff. Another was to understand the rules and regulations. For example, the restaurant received a fine from the Food Inspection Agency because Li did not understand that he could not continue to cook during an inspection.  

But thanks to the Lizhi Centre’s pioneering “supported employment” model, Li was able to receive on-the-job training and acquire skills which have enabled him to become an established staff member at the Wan Feng Restaurant.  

“Most students with intellectual disabilities are not able to adapt to the competitive work environment for the first few months,” says Feng Lu, head of the Lizhi Center.

“International experience shows that for people with intellectual disabilities, on-the-job training is much more effective.”

 “Job coaches and psychological comfort help them overcome the challenge,” she adds.

One of the drawbacks of regular vocational training programmes is that they don’t help deal with issues that arise post-training – once a person with intellectual disabilities is in the workplace.

“International experience shows that for people with intellectual disabilities, on-the-job training is much more effective – it is better to place and train, than train and place,” says Barbara Murray, Senior Disability Specialist at the ILO.

More job coaches  

However, a shortage of professional on-the-job trainers has proved an obstacle. “Very few people are trained to do job coaching,” Feng said.

Through the Irish AID-supported PROPEL project (Promoting Rights and Opportunities for People with Disabilities in Employment through Legislation), the ILO is working with the Lizhi Centre, the Chinese Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) and the Special Education Institute of Beijing Union University (BUU) to improve employment opportunities for people like Li.  

The Special Education Institute of the BUU is training job counselors to provide coaching for persons with intellectual disabilities. Prof. Xu Jiancheng, Dean of the Special Education Institute, says that each person with intellectual disability has different problems in open workplaces. Therefore, a specific plan is needed for each individual.

“They learn how to cooperate with non-disabled workers and train quite fast,” says Ms. Wang Huajie, one of 10 job counselors now working at the Jinan Intellectual Bright Center (Bright Center) in Shandong Province, Eastern China. She says that the training provided her with more knowledge and techniques on how to support people with intellectual disabilities.

During 2013, PROPEL-China will work with the China Association of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and their Families of CDPF and BUU, to hold a seminar and share their approach with other vocational training centres. The seminar will be the first step in introducing the supported employment approach through the over 5,000 vocational training institutions for persons with disabilities in China.

Joint publication

The impact of agricultural trade on labour markets

A new ILO/UNCTAD book highlights the role of agricultural trade in creating jobs and alleviating poverty around the world.  

Press release | 14 May 2013

GENEVA – A new book edited by UNCTAD and the International Labour Organization (ILO) stresses that agricultural trade can be an opportunity for creating jobs and alleviating poverty around the world.  

“Shared Harvests: Agriculture, Trade and Employment” was released today. The book, which resulted from research coordinated by UNCTAD and the ILO and financed by the European Union, urges that higher policy priority be given to farming. It is based on a collaboration between UNCTAD and the ILO, as well as on a technical cooperation project entitled, “Assessing and addressing the effects of trade and employment,” managed jointly by the European Commission and the ILO.

The findings from the project show a strong link between poverty reduction, on the one hand, and effective agricultural production and trade, on the other. They also emphasize that farming has a key role to play in the economy when it comes to employment creation.

Agriculture employs more than a billion people in developing countries, which represent 48 per cent of their labour force.

The book analyzes the impact of agricultural trade on labour markets in developing countries and, in particular, how it affects the creation and destruction of jobs in the agricultural sector. Developing countries now account for 37 per cent of agricultural trade, up from 30 per cent in 2000. Given that many agricultural workers are members of poor households – for example, 96 per cent of agricultural workers in Guatemala earn less than the minimum wage – the relationship between trade and jobs in the agricultural sector is highly relevant for poverty reduction and broader development strategies.

The book includes a series of case studies at the country, regional and global levels on the employment impacts of agricultural trade. It discusses how concerns about employment in agriculture are reflected in national trade policies and in regional and multilateral trade agreements. In addition, the book attempts to shed light on how changes in productivity, food security, rural–urban migration, skills and domestic regulation affect the relationship between trade and employment in agriculture.

The evidence presented indicates that agricultural trade is unlikely to produce job “miracles” or lead to dramatic job losses. A moderate multilateral liberalization scenario, for example, predicts a decrease in agricultural employment in developed countries of about 0.6 per cent and an increase of about 0.25 per cent in developing countries.

However, agricultural trade can be an opportunity for development and employment, the book concludes. It also highlights the importance of social protection in reducing the vulnerability of agricultural workers and recommends targeted promotion of agricultural productivity to enhance competitiveness in global markets.

Workers’ cooperatives

Cooperatives today: challenges and opportunities

A recent seminar organized by the ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities and the ILO’s Cooperative Branch brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world to talk about some of the issues and experiences that cooperatives are facing today.  

Article | 14 May 2013

GENEVA – The economic contribution of cooperatives is often undervalued, if not completely ignored. But the reality is that the top 300 cooperatives worldwide have a turnover of more than US$ 1.9 trillion combined, which is more than the GDP of Italy.  

Cooperatives have also played a key role in the economic crisis that erupted in 2008. ILO research shows that cooperative enterprises across sectors and regions are proving to be relatively more resilient to the current market shocks than their capital-centred counterparts.In Quebec, cooperatives are responding to the needs of the labour market by mobilizing both skilled and unskilled workers. In Asia, particularly in India, cooperatives are helping to organize workers in the informal economy. In Africa, trade unions and cooperatives are working together to promote freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.  

That does not mean that cooperatives are a panacea for workers and the economy as a whole. Depending on the country, cooperatives can face many challenges, one of them being how to attract young workers at a time when global youth unemployment is affecting more than 73 million young women and men, aged 15 to 24.  

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities and the ILO’s Cooperative Branch recently organized a seminar on the relationship between trade unions and worker cooperatives. Click here to see some of the participants’ opinions about the current challenges and opportunities for cooperatives in their countries and regions.

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