Before starting my contribution today, I would like to take the opportunity to salute the memory of Mr Marcel Pisani, who was a pioneer and activist in the sector of disability.
It is my pleasure to join you at this European conference of expert stakeholders, focusing on the important topic of inclusive and dignified workplaces for persons with disabilities.
It is through activities such as this conference that we can, together, continue promoting essential issues of social justice.
To do so we must work in synergy, across civil society, with community stakeholders, and alongside national and transnational authorities.
During the rest of this conference, I encourage you to keep exploring opportunities for collaboration between your different organisations and groups.
I encourage you to use your united strength as policy-makers, practitioners, activists and members of civil society, to bring greater awareness to the crucial questions of dignified employment, of workplace inclusion, and of the participation of persons with disabilities in all sectors.
Malta’s ongoing Presidency of the Council of the European Union provides an excellent platform from which parallel events, such as this conference, can create a louder voice.
In this way, contributions can be made, to European policy and the international discourse on issues of employment and disability.
I believe that now is the time for us to intensify our efforts to work together, to sustain a momentum for positive social change which shall be felt across our European Union, to ensure a truly and effectively inclusive Europe.
It is necessary for citizens of the Union to inspire one another, as well as collaborate on practical actions.
Let me therefore focus my remarks on some reflections about the situation in Malta, and how these are an example of good practice and successful, collaborative social change.
I believe that the ongoing endeavours of civil society have brought issues of disability and employment to the forefront of the national agenda.
The leadership shown by civil society stakeholders has proved that people with disability, through their diverse abilities, can be powerful contributors to the workforce.
The strengthening of the participation of persons with disability in employment is being reflected by a general expansion of the Maltese workforce.
According to data from Malta’s National Statistics Office, the numbers of people gainfully occupied, including both full and part-time, increased by nine percent last year.
The participation of persons with disabilities in this increase is, in no small way, due to the effective strategies adopted by Maltese authorities.
For example, it is because of the great success of the Supported Employment Programme that a much needed review has begun, in the way our country is developing a more inclusive workforce.
Thanks to the Malta Association of Supported Employment, established by the Malta Federation of Persons with Disability, working hand in hand with our policy-makers and national authorities, we have started formulating a systematic response to the inclusion of all people deemed “vulnerable”, in some way, within employment.
The Programme, which touched the lives of hundreds of people between 2015 and 2016, is now reaching an even broader number of individuals through the LEAP! Agency.
I hope that the project’s implementation through LEAP! which began last month, will be of benefit for all people with disability in Malta.
Please permit me to say how proud I am of the Malta Federation of Persons with Disability and their collaborators, for having such a strong vision for this important project.
I am pleased to note that over four hundred individuals have already benefited from the Supported Employment Programme.
However, let us remember that when an individual is assisted and supported in their employment, it is, in fact, entire families and whole communities which reap the rewards.
By responding to the need for productive employment in a dignified and respectful way, these initiatives are proof of our commitment to create a more inclusive society, while also safeguarding the wellbeing of each and every member of our society.
Allow me, at this point, to invoke the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in particular Article 27.
Its powerful mandate sends a clear and certain message to us and to our authorities, that we have the duty to protect, to support, to nurture, but most of all, to celebrate the participation of persons with disabilities in the economic and social life of our nations.
I am pleased to say that, in my country, these efforts are putting into practical force the spirit which is contained in Article 27.
However, we must admit that we have not as yet reached the full aspirations of persons with disabilities in our countries.
I think it is important that we continue to appraise and review, as necessary, the policies and strategies of our nations.
In order to stimulate further thought for your deliberations, I would like to pose the following questions:
How can we work together, as members of civil society, as activists, and as policy-makers, to more fully implement the force of the Convention across our nations, our European Union, and our world?
In what tangible ways can we address the higher rate of unemployment experienced by people with disabilities, as part of a holistic approach which takes into account the dignity of the individual within an inclusive society?
How can we best tackle discrimination, experienced both in the workplace and during the employment process, to ensure that effective and appropriate safeguards are in place which prevent such prejudice?
What more can we do to sensitise citizens to the need for respectful, inclusive, and participative workplaces, so that they too can become active champions for the change we need throughout our economies?
Let me conclude by once again congratulating the Malta Federation of Organisations for Persons with Disability, the Malta Association for Supported Employment, the European Disability Forum and all other stakeholders for facilitating and joining in this important conference.
I look forward to learning more about the outcomes of your discussions, and augur you every success.