15 Nov Blind workers in Tashkent are complaining of low wages and unemployment
Photo: blind and visually impaired workers of the training and production enterprise LLC “CHYOTKA”, a screenshot from the YouTube video by Uzbek blogger “Sirojiddin Media”, 15 October 2020.
Blind workers at the “CHYOTKA” training and production enterprise in Tashkent which belongs to the Society of the Blind of Uzbekistan are complaining of meagre wages and unemployment. The situation in the labour market of Uzbekistan is further exacerbated by the negative consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and related quarantine measures. Disabled people are now experiencing an even higher level of unemployment, which can lead to poverty reports a local journalist Dana Oparina at Anhor.uz.
Earlier an Uzbek blogger Sirojiddin Media posted a video report on his popular Youtube channel (with about 226 thousand subscribers) under the title “Why are the blind dissatisfied with the managers? Tashkent city, Mirabad district, Munis Street, 10”. Initially, the video was publicly available, and comments were open, but later it became available only through the link and the comments section was turned off. You can watch the video below:
Dana Oparina wrote that during the pandemic people with visual impairments, in general, were left behind without the right to decent employment and protection of their labour. This situation occurs everywhere: blind and visually impaired people in Uzbekistan are struggling to find jobs, and the working conditions are often not suitable for them. The specialised enterprise LLC “CHYOTKA” employed only blind people and for a long time has produced industrial brushes for the Uzbek cotton industry. Below I provide a full translation of Dana’s article into English.
Unfair treatment of blind employees
The situation in the labour market is aggravated by Covid-19 pandemic. For example, in Almalyk, Uzbeks crowded around the administration of the local mining and metallurgical plant, which announced open vacancies. Disabled people, in turn, experience even higher levels of unemployment, which can lead to poverty.
Last year, an enterprise affiliated with the Society of the Blind received a loan of 5 billion soums (about $482 thousand), this year it received another loan of 14 billion soums (about $1,350 thousand) for the production of fizzy drinks and beverages. At the same time, blind workers receive a salary of 435 thousand soums (about $40) per month. This is even less than the official minimum wage, which is 577 thousand soums. Blind workers are demanding to be paid a salary of 600-800 thousand soums.
Only three people with visual impairments are now working in the textile workshop at the “Tikuv Ziyo Fayz” enterprise, the rest are all sighted. According to an Anhor.uz source, when the company was going to receive the first loan, it stated that it would employ about 40-50 people with visual impairments.
There is also a small factory that employs 40 people with visual impairments. During the quarantine period, these workers were sent on leave without pay. Although, according to the law, unpaid leave can be granted only at the request of the employee and for a period not exceeding three months.
“Wasn’t it possible to pay a percentage of the salary? The workers were not even consulted on this issue,” the Anhor.uz source notes.
It is difficult for disabled people to find jobs
According to the respondent, 80% of members of the Society of the Blind are not employed. The source notes that the blind have to work at home, but this income is not regular.
“There is a 3% quota for hiring disabled people, there are laws, but the mechanisms are not working. The Senate and the deputies must develop a working mechanism.”
Unemployed people with visual impairments wrote complaints to the prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Labour. The state bodies are responding that disabled people have a disability pension and that they are not considered as unemployed.
“The [disability] pension is about 600 thousand soums [less than $60] per month. I don’t think that a person can live on 600 thousand soums”.
The management of the Society of the Blind is working ineffectively, the anonymous interviewee said to Anhor.uz. When members of the Society ask for support in finding jobs, they are told to wait. Often this expectation does not lead to anything.
What can be done based on international recommendations?
The International Labor Organization (ILO) notes that although the crisis caused by Covid-19 is new, the social inequality of disabled people is not new. The risk in this case is that they will be left behind on their own once again.
The organisation believes that it is necessary to provide adequate social protection since disabled people incur additional costs to maintain their health and socialisation. Otherwise, they risk falling below the poverty line.
Among people with disabilities, and especially women, there is an already extremely high percentage of unemployment. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Fact Sheet on disability and Covid-19 notes the following:
- providing financial assistance to people with disabilities without income;
- increasing existing disability benefits, including through advance payments to cover additional costs;
- providing financial compensation to self-employed people with disabilities whose income has decreased.
More than 45 thousand registered blind and visually impaired citizens live in Uzbekistan. According to the information provided by the Society of the Blind, it has more than 23 thousand members. Anhor.uz contacted the Society of the Blind to comment on the situation and is waiting for an official response.
The material was prepared with the technical support of the IWPR Representative in Central Asia within the framework of the mentoring programme of the project “Development of New Media and Digital Journalism”. The content of this material, views, opinions and their interpretation are those of the author / s and may not reflect the official position of IWPR.