My parliamentary colleagues Mr Sam Tan and Ms Denise Phua
SG Enable Chairman, Mr Chew Hock Yong, CEO Ms Ku Geok Boon, and Board Members
Distinguished Guests, Ladies & Gentlemen
1. Good evening.
2. Thank you for joining us tonight to celebrate the spirit of inclusion. The employers we hold up this evening have made the effort to hire and retain persons with disabilities, and have taken meaningful steps to integrate them into their organisations.
3. We also honour individuals who have contributed towards inclusion in their own ways. They are champions of inclusive hiring within their organisations, or are buddies and mentors to their colleagues with disabilities.
4. Tonight, we also want to recognise individuals who have made a mark at their workplace through their extraordinary performance.
5. One of our award winners, Michael Ang, works at YMCA. He started out as a room attendant cleaning hostel rooms, before serving as a waiter and cashier. Michael now runs Sidewalk Café (an outdoor café) independently. He has shown great initiative in solving challenges on the job. For instance, he came up with the idea of using a translation app to communicate with customers who are unable to speak English.
6. Michael and our Exemplary Employees award winners are role models who help others see that, when given the right support, people with disabilities can contribute to an organisation just as well as any other person.
Progress in Inclusive Hiring
7. We are presenting a record number of awards this evening, since we started giving out these awards 8 years ago.
8. SG Enable has received 60% more employer submissions compared to the 4th Enabling Employers Awards in 2017. This explains the many presentation ceremonies later. I am sure you will agree with me that this is a happy problem. It means we are making steady progress towards our vision of a home where people with disabilities are able to fulfil their aspirations in all aspects of life, including employment.
9. We have supported these efforts through several schemes. For example, in 2012, we extended the Special Employment Credit (SEC) to support employers that hire Singaporeans with disabilities. More than 8,600 employees with disabilities and their employers benefited from this scheme last year, up from about 5,000 in 2012.
10. The Open Door Programme (ODP) provides employers access to recruitment and job support services for persons with disabilities, as well as grants for job redesign and training. From January 2016 to March this year, close to 750 companies have hired more than 2,000 persons with disabilities through government programmes, including the Open Door Programme.
Enhancing Support for Social Enterprises and Inclusive Hiring Businesses
11. But we want to further strengthen our support for inclusive employers like you, who understand and believe in the value that employees with disabilities bring to your organisations.
12. Two years ago, when I first visited the Enabling Village, I saw how workplaces embedded within our housing estates brought employment closer to people with disabilities.
13. I have also met many parents and caregivers who shared their anxieties when their loved ones with disabilities have to navigate long distances to get to work. They wished that there were more job opportunities closer to home, so they can build up their confidence.
14. We have been working on this idea. I am glad to announce that HDB, SG Enable and the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE) have come together to make a push in this direction.
15. Let me elaborate. Today, HDB allocates shop spaces at discounted rentals to new social enterprises provided they receive competitive grant funding from raiSE.
16. One such social enterprise is Project Dignity. They provide vocational training and employment opportunities to persons with disabilities at Dignity Kitchen, a heartland food court in Serangoon. More than half of their employees are persons with disabilities or from vulnerable communities. Their efforts have been recognised through the “President’s Challenge Social Enterprise of the Year” award in 2015. They will also be receiving a Certificate of Recognition today, for their efforts in inclusive hiring.
17. We want to do more. With effect from today, HDB will make 2 changes.
18. First, we will make the scheme - HDB shop allocation at discounted rates - available to all social enterprises who are members of raiSE, our Centre for Social Enterprise.
19. These are not just social enterprises who receive grant funding. This is a much larger pool of more than 350 social enterprises, and the number is growing. We hope that social enterprises who hire inclusively will take up the offer and locate themselves in the community.
20. Second, beyond social enterprises, we also recognise that there are a growing number of businesses who have taken meaningful steps to hire persons with disabilities, but who are not necessarily social enterprises.
21. We want to support and encourage these businesses and employers too. Therefore, HDB and SG Enable will be launching a pilot.
22. Businesses will be able to apply through SG Enable for direct allocation of HDB shop spaces, if they commit to hiring a workforce where at least 20% are persons with disabilities. In addition, those who are SMEs will enjoy a 20% rental discount, for their first three years of tenancy.
23. We hope that this will make it even easier for social enterprises and businesses who hire persons with disabilities to start up in our housing estates and neighbourhoods, bringing jobs closer to the community.
24. I want to thank the agencies involved, and our partners from the private and people sectors who have boldly pushed the needle on inclusive employment.
25. My colleagues Minister of State Sam Tan and Mayor Denise Phua are leading a forward-looking workgroup under the Enabling Masterplan, to think about and plan for how persons with disabilities can seize opportunities in the future economy.
26. For example, by enhancing access to lifelong learning. In the coming months, they will conduct focus group discussions with persons with disabilities, their caregivers and employers. We can delve more deeply into some of the issues faced, and design ideas and solutions together with partners and stakeholders. Together, we can accomplish more than what each of us can do alone.
27. I congratulate all our award winners this year, and thank you for your support.