Today is a double celebration.
We celebrate, first of all, the achievements of the hundred companies who have this year received the MSC's ‘Fit for Work’ Award. By their example they have demonstrated something of high importance. They have shown that an understanding and constructive attitude towards the particular needs of individuals is part and parcel of running an efficient and successful business.
Secondly, we celebrate the launch of a new Code of Good Practice on the employment of disabled people. [end p1] We celebrate it, indeed, with a “buffet launch” .
Now Ministers, and especially I suppose Prime Ministers, get a fair amount of practice in launching things. Launching a ship, for example is comparatively easy. You say a few words, break a bottle of champagne and look on admiringly as she slides gently into the water.
But how do you launch a Code? —Not, presumably, by breaking a bottle, [end p2] though it certainly helps if you open one; —Not by cutting a ribbon; —Not even by saying a few words, though I am glad to have the opportunity to do so.
You launch a Code, and especially a voluntary Code, with a generous fund of goodwill. Looking around this Long Gallery, I see that goodwill personified. Government and Opposition, employers and trade unionists, company directors and shop floor workers. We are all united in our determination to [end p3] improve the employment opportunities for disabled people, and to help them play a full part in the economic life—as well as the social and cultural life—of our community. Our Award winners this year have done just that.
People who employ disabled workers know from experience that it makes good business sense to employ people who are loyal and hardworking and who have skills and abilities to offer.
Disabled people are not looking for favours although naturally they need that extra bit of assistance or consideration to get them started. What they really want is to be considered on their merits for jobs, training and promotion. [end p4] It is no more than the rest of us take for granted. In fact, I sometimes feel that disabled people have special qualities of drive and determination, acquired in the process of overcoming their disability.
I was particularly struck by the efforts made by one of this year's winners to (michelin) to resettle a former technical sales representative who suffered a serious sporting accident. Although he is now confined to a wheelchair with no movement in his hands and restricted movement of elbows and wrists, he is nonetheless working [end p5] successfully as a computer programmer and analyst with the company. After retraining, and with the help of aids and adaptations including a specially, equipped office, he is now back at work. But it needed thoughtfulness and careful planning on the part of the employer and local MSC staff to bring about this splendid result.
As Award winners, you and your companies have already done a great deal. But there is something else which I should [end p6] like to ask you to do. Please talk to your fellow employers about your experience. Don't be modest. Help to get the message across. We'd like to see many more companies taking part in the Fit for Work scheme.
It is sometimes suggested that the development of new technologies threatens jobs. Most people recognise, however, that it makes possible new products, new services, and new jobs. And it certainly makes more possible the employment of disabled people. [end p7] For example, we are financing some exciting new experiments in working from home, using sophisticated equipment which can help people who can't get about to do as much as their colleagues in offices and factories. We have some interesting examples of this sort of new technology on display here today.
Two years ago we asked the Manpower Services Commission [end p8] to draw up a Code of Good Practice on the Employment of Disabled People in consultation with employers, employees and voluntary organisations. The resulting Code which is being published today, has the unanimous support of the parties represented on the Commission. It is of course in addition to the existing statutory obligations of employers, which remain in force. [end p9]
Tom King and Bryan Nicholson will be writing to the Chairmen of major companies and other employers, urging them to take the Code of Good Practice to heart. You, of course, as winners of the ‘Fit for Work’ Award, have already been putting the best policies and practices in to effect. But we need to spread the word.
The Code, which is the first of its kind in Europe, lays emphasis throughout on the need to look for the abilities of disabled workers, not concentrate on their disabilities. Their skills are a valuable national resource, and should not be allowed to waste. [end p10]
There is more to it than that. Although we stress the realism of our approach, and the economic contribution which disabled people can make, I believe that most of us get a special satisfaction from helping them to find new hope and a new sense of achievement.
We have so little to complain about, and so much to learn from them. We are grateful for their example.