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Jobs for disabled means a good deal

By Nick Easen for CNN

French companies have to fill six percent of their positions with disabled people or pay a fine.
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(CNN) -- Any ethical company will tell you its policy is to employ people with disabilities, but actually incorporating them into the workforce is another matter.

Concerns about productivity and profitability abound, not to mention health and safety.

However, aside from the social obligation, employing disabled people may be good for business.

Workers with disabilities are more punctual, are absent less and tend to be more loyal, according to the UK Employers' Forum on Disability, Remploy, Britain's largest supplier of disabled employment and other advocates.

"There is actually evidence from some surveys...which show that disabled people sometimes take less sickness absence than other colleagues," Agnes Fletcher of the UK's Disability Rights Commission told CNN.

"They certainly stay longer in particular jobs with particular employees than non-disabled employees."

Across Europe, legislation already exists to prevent employers discriminating against disabled people.

France and Germany have gone a step further and implemented a quota system that requires companies to fill six percent of their positions with disabled people or pay a fine.

UK advocacy groups prefer to stress the low cost impact of accommodating disabled people -- the Disability Rights Commission says it costs just $250 per person.

"Research shows that the cost of accommodating disabled people is actually much lower than what people think," says Fletcher.

"People are often afraid, unreasonably, about what the costs may be."

UK government funds are also available to help companies employ handicapped workers, as well as adjust workspaces.

British businesses that employ people with a disability are recognized in the Prime Minister's Employer of the Year awards.

In Eastern Europe

"Profitability and social obligation go hand in hand," says Mohammed Hasan of the UK Institute of Directors.

Now countries in the process of joining the European Union on May 1 have to comply with EU law on the issue.

This involves abolishing tax breaks to corporations which employ disabled individuals.

The Polish government is also considering cutting back direct subsidies to companies who employ handicapped people.

Yet one Warsaw-based cosmetics company, SWIT, has survived primarily due to this kind of financial support -- 60 percent of its 500 employees are disabled.

The subsidies to this 60-year-old company, which has tried to marry its social responsibilities with corporate success, have been substantial.

They range from 50 to 130 percent of employees wages, depending on the disability.

"Some of our employees are able to produce close to what an able-bodied person might be able to produce," says Antoni Grybos, chairman of SWIT.

"Although others here with mental illnesses have a productivity that is just a fraction of that."

With Poland joining the EU, the company now faces a new economic reality -- turn its back on a decades-old policy of offering work to society's most disadvantaged, or go out of business.

"It is very likely we will not receive any more subsidies and that forces us to make organizational changes. The simplest and easiest is to decrease employment," says Weldermar Siwak, vice chairman of SWIT.

CNN's Andrew Carey contributed to this report

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