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Sir Joe gets flak for comments on supported employment

Minister for Employment, Sir Joe Bossano, on GBC's Gibraltar Today. Photo by GBC.

Disability charities in Gibraltar on Wednesday hit out at the Minister for Employment, Sir Joe Bossano, after he told GBC’s Gibraltar Today he “stands by” earlier comments relating to disabled workers in supported employment.

In an interview with the broadcaster last week, Sir Joe said disabled employees might not be as “engaged” and “productive”, and they could require to take more sick leave than others.

The comments drew criticism from disability charities who called on Sir Joe to apologise.

But asked for that apology on Gibraltar Today this week, Sir Joe said he stood by his earlier comments and defended the Government’s record of providing supported employment.

On Wednesday the Disability Society said “it is regrettable” that Sir Joe “does not feel it necessary to apologise” to the disabled community for his “insensitive” remarks made on GBC news last week.

“The Disability Society would, however, like to thank him for his admission this week on Gibraltar Today, that his lack of understanding of supported employment and disabled people’s complex needs is a generational thing,” a statement from the Disability Society said.

“The Society would, therefore, like to suggest that perhaps the Ministry for Employment should be run by a Minister who does have understanding of the working of supported employment.”

“A Minister who understands the needs of those with disabilities and disadvantaged groups all who would benefit from a fit for purpose Supported Employment Company.”

Meanwhile the Special Needs Action Group, SNAG, called for a public apology from Sir Joe.

“The Special Needs Action Group is deeply concerned and offended by the recent comments made by Sir Joe in his interviews concerning supported employment for people with disabilities,” a statement read.

“We find his remarks to be highly offensive, insulting, and perpetuating ableism, and we call on him to publicly apologise to all disabled people and their loved ones for the damage caused.”

“In the interviews aired on GBC Radio and TV, Minister Sir Joe expressed views that labelled people with disabilities as lacking abilities that non-disabled people have, unproductive, suggesting they might be more vulnerable to illness and in need of protection under protected employment.”

“Such language and sentiments not only display a lack of understanding about how supported employment should work but also showcases a fundamental lack of appreciation for the abilities and unique strengths of people with disabilities.”

SNAG denounced “these ableist and ill-informed comments”, adding it firmly believes that Gibraltar “must break barriers and eradicate ableism to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for all”.

SNAG said the interviews “reflect a troubling mentality towards disabled individuals”.

“Rather than promoting understanding and celebrating the diverse capabilities of people with disabilities, these remarks propagate harmful stereotypes and hinder the progress we and many others have worked tirelessly to achieve in creating an inclusive society,” SNAG said.

“We call on Sir Joe and his Government to recognise the gravity of his comments and issue a public apology to all those affected by his words.”

SNAG also called for the responsibility for supported employment to be handed to a minister “who better understands the concept and the significance of fostering inclusive work environments and expresses views that promote and encourage people with disabilities rather than offend them”.

It also called for the recognition of the capabilities and strengths of people with disabilities and promote their inclusion in the workforce.

And it also called for work towards dismantling ableist attitudes and promoting positive perceptions of disabled individuals.

“We stress that comments like these not only set back progress but also inflict emotional harm on disabled people, their families, and the community we all live in,” SNAG said.

“Together with disabled individuals, their loved ones, civil society movements, NGOs, and professionals, we have strived to remove ableism from our society and create a more accepting community for everyone.”

SNAG also requested Sir Joe to address questions previously asked on supported employment and internships, private sector employers and the staff and resources at Supported Employment Company LTD.

Last night, the Gibraltar Government issued a statement and said it has no further comment regarding supported employment other than those made by Sir Joe as the Minister for Employment.

“The Minister for Employment has already clarified the Government’s position on the matter,” the statement from No.6 Convent Place said.

“The Government reiterates Sir Joe’s comment that it was this Government that introduced supported employment to Gibraltar in 2012 and we have maintained it as a matter of policy.”

“There are currently 68 people in supported employment.”

“The Government is proud of this record, whilst recognising that there is more that can and will be done.”

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