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Disabled Workers Claim Discrimination

Employers in Kyrgyzstan are ignoring laws designed to protect people with disabilities.
By Astra Sadybakasova
Workers with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan have called on the government to combat discrimination in the workplace by beefing up toothless labour legislation.

Disabled people should by Kyrgyz law make up five per cent of the workforce at companies with 20 people or more, but recent graduates struggling to find jobs say employers are routinely ignoring their obligations.

Lawyer Nikolai Frolov told IWPR that part of the problem is that few disabled people are aware of the laws that were designed to protect them. “They do not take the employers to court for refusing them work, as they fear they will lose the case. The laws in our country do not work,” said Frolov.

Almaz Seitaliev, a law graduate with impaired vision, has been looking for a job as a lawyer for two years.

“Law offices don’t even look through my application when they find out that I’m vision-impaired, although I have as good a command of criminal and civil cases as fully-sighted people,” said Seitaliev. “All that’s left for me to do is to open my own firm, but I’d need money to do that.”

The situation is much the same for the 2005 graduates of a special massage course at the Bishkek Medical Academy, set up by former President Askar Akaev in 2001 for young people who are blind or have poor vision. More than half have been unable to find jobs.

Yana Ratoklya, who graduated from the course in 2004, said that despite her new skills and hard work, she has found it imposible to get employment at either state-run or private clinics. “We cannot compete with non-invalids,” she said.

The term "invalid" is widely used here as a definition of a disabled person's legal and benefits status.

Olga Yugai, who works at a Bishkek employment agency, admits that jobseekers with hearing or visual disabilities often come in looking for work but leave disappointed when they are told there is no demand for their services.

Aziz Idrisov, director of an employment exchange for young jobseekers, confirmed Yugai’s assertion, saying jobs for the disabled are hard to come by in Kyrgyzstan. “Enterprises which could employ them don’t want to have anything to do with us. They don’t want to take on the disabled, and no law can stand in their way,” said Idrisov.

Guljamal Asanova, the head of the Bishkek Society for the Blind and Deaf, said although the state helps disabled young people to get an education, offering subsidies and free medical treatment while they study, nothing is available after graduation.

“So why do they need higher education if they can’t find a job afterwards?” she asked, adding there are currently 45 blind students in higher education, mostly training as lawyers, IT specialists, musicians or teachers.

State aid is also provided in the form of tax exemptions and rent breaks for disabled people who open their own business.

Some parliamentary deputies are concerned that the government only really turns its attention to the issue when it comes to the international disabled day.

“All year long, no one does anything for them,” said deputy Asamedin Maripov.

There are specialised factories in Kyrgyzstan set up to employ those with visual and hearing impairments, but they are struggling as a result of competition from shuttle traders from China who have flooded the country with cheap products.

“There is practically no work, although the production machines and equipment are still in working order,” said Toktonbek Mametakunov, the director of one such factory which employs 169 people, 150 whom have problems with their vision. “Our invalids receive tiny wages."

Gulnara Makesheva, the head of the school running the massage course for the blind, describes her students as “diligent and disciplined” and says they would be an asset to any business. “They will be good workers, if they are employed,” she said.

Businesses that have hired disabled workers praise their abilities.

Almaz Tillebaev, the owner of a confectionary business, said the two deaf mute men he hired to assemble cardboard boxes for cakes have been an asset. “In two years of work they have not been given any disciplinary actions or other reprimands,” he said. “I am satisfied with their work and wouldn’t even consider finding other people to replace them.”

Doctor Zukhra Muratova took on visually impaired masseuse Gulsina Yakupjanova after attending the graduation exams at the medical college. “I could also have chosen a non-invalid employee, but invalids need help, even if it just means that we employ them,” said Muratova.

Astra Sadybakasova is a correspondent for the newspaper Argumenty I Fakty v Kyrgyzstane.

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