In the Netherlands, 1 million people are on the sidelines: people who want to work, but do not participate in the labor market due to all kinds of limitations. Can the UN Handicap Treaty change this? What is the role of government and social enterprises? These questions were central to the online conference ‘It is possible! A social and solidarity economy’, which De Omslag organized on 15 February.
“Inequality in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe is increasing,” said MEP Agnes Jongerius. She opened the conference, which was attended by more than 200 policy makers, social entrepreneurs and other stakeholders. “Work is far from self-evident for everyone. As a result, a large potential is lost: because there is insufficient investment in people.’
“We are further than six years ago,” said Jacobine Geel, president of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights. This board is the supervisor of the UN Handicap Convention, which was ratified by the Netherlands in 2016. This convention provides that people with disabilities have the right to work. The government is obliged to cooperate with this. Geel: ‘It is no longer a privilege to be allowed to participate. A big step forward.”
Since the ratification of the treaty, anyone who feels discriminated against with regard to his right to work can approach the Institute to bring his case before the Court. Other issues, such as whether government laws and policies comply with the right to work, are “gradually enforceable.” Geel: ‘That depends on the pressure that involved parties such as interest groups and social enterprises can exert.’
Will they soon be able to go to court to file a collective complaint against the government because it does not sufficiently realize the right to work?
“That’s worth a try,” said professor of health law Brigit Toebes. The government is ultimately responsible for realizing the right to work. It will not be easy, because judges do not want to sit in the legislator’s chair.’ According to her, such a complaint has a chance of success if you can demonstrate that the Netherlands performs worse than other countries.
According to Illya Soffer, director of Elke(in), a network for people with disabilities, there is every reason for a collective complaint. “Our recent shadow reporting on compliance with the convention shows that the risk of exclusion from work has increased since 2016. The livelihood of people with disabilities is even more distressing than we had previously estimated.’
Arend Pietersen, director of Cedris, the national association for an inclusive labor market, mentioned the decentralization and fragmentation of legislation and regulations as the major obstacle. “Social enterprises could help a lot more people find work if the rules weren’t so complicated.”
While it is precisely social enterprises that can make a difference, Ann Branch stated. She is head of the European Commission for Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship. The social economy in Europe already employs more than 6% of the working population. In some countries the share in the gross national product is less than 1 percent, but in others almost 10 percent. Strengthening social entrepreneurship is crucial to help people with disabilities find work.” She talked about an ambitious action plan that the EU is launching this year to stimulate social enterprises.
“Let’s also recognize that cashing in on the right to work costs money, said economist Frank Kalshoven. “It’s not a small beer.” That money taxpayers have to cough up. ‘That will only work if we value work in a different way. Don’t just look at economic benefits, but also look at things like health benefits, meaning and social cohesion.’
At the end of the morning programme, De Omslag directors Corine van de Burgt and Esmeralda van der Naaten presented a manifesto calling on the government to realize the right to work for everyone. Van de Burgt: ‘Social entrepreneurs have shown for years that it is possible. Making work accessible to everyone should become the norm rather than a niche. Government, stand up for the social and solidarity economy. Take your responsibility, make it work!’
Make it work!
Government, stand up for the social and solidarity economy, work together and take responsibility to realize the right to work of the UN Disability Convention.