Deaf parking attendants are in danger! - Dilmurad Yusupov
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Deaf parking attendants are in danger!

Today starts the International Week of the Deaf 2020 (IWD). It is celebrated around the world every year during the last full week of September. The theme of this year is “Reaffirming Deaf People’s Human Rights”. I decided to post the English translations of all my articles related to promoting the human rights of deaf people in Uzbekistan. This piece appeared both in Russian and Uzbek on Gazeta.uz on 27 September 2019 and is about disability discrimination in the labour market that deaf and hard-of-hearing people are still facing.

Their rights to decent and safe employment are regularly violated, and the Uzbek society is turning a blind eye to this. Dilmurad Yusupov talked with deaf parking lot workers and witnessed their hard-working days. Last year during my PhD fieldwork in Tashkent, I spoke with deaf parking attendants and saw their hard and dangerous working days:

Several weeks ago, on 8 September, I received a terrible message about a shooting in the parking lot of the Tashkent Hippodrome. Two deaf parking attendants were shot five times with strange weapons. The strangers grabbed the deaf parking attendants in the hippodrome parking lot and, holding them back, fired at them point-blank. As a result, two men with hearing impairments received several bullet wounds in the neck, back of the head and even in the eye. One lost two teeth when a bullet hit him in the cheek. Another was shot in the eye and is currently being prepared for surgery. According to doctors, the likelihood that he will see with this eye again is fifty to fifty.

Deaf workers of the parking lot of the “Markaziy Ippodrom” enterprise injured in an armed attack on 8 September 2019. Photo of an eyewitness who wished to remain anonymous.

On the same day, the injured made their way to the Republican Scientific Center for Emergency Medical Aid. However, none of the paramedics responded to their signs asking for first aid. Deaf people with bullet wounds sat for two hours in the corridor, waiting until operational officers arrived to carry out operational-search work. Only after their arrival, the victims began to receive the necessary medical assistance. Then the men were taken from the hospital to the prosecutor’s office. After filling out the application in the district department of internal affairs, there is silence in the case. What are the results of the work of law enforcement agencies is still unknown.

An eyewitness to the events told me that the video recordings from the crime scene were not preserved since the surveillance camera allegedly works on a wireless connection and there was a strong wind that day – as a result, all the equipment turned off.

Considering that several weeks have passed since the date of the crime, it may seem that deaf parking attendants are being offered to undergo treatment in the hospital and on this to close the case. But if you deeply delve into the essence of the accumulated problems in the field of employment and attitudes towards people with hearing impairments, one can understand that the armed attack on them was by no means accidental and the prerequisites for it had been brewing for a long time.

Reasons for attacking deaf parking attendants

This summer, together with a sign language interpreter, we headed to the parking lot of one of the capital’s markets to chat with deaf parking attendants. It was an impossible heat, and together with the sign language interpreter, we could not hold out in the parking lot for more than five minutes. One of the deaf parking attendants responded to our gestures and immediately asked me a question: “Did you come from the factory to offer us a job?” Sitting back into the air-conditioned car, we could hardly imagine how these deaf parking attendants could keep up with their full work schedule in such a helluva lot.

We drove out of the market parking lot because we didn’t want to take away their time and hinder their hard work. But later, we managed to get an interview from one deaf parking attendant with many years of experience:

“We have been on the market for over eight years. Now there are eight of us and all without an employment record book. Through the Society of the Deaf, we applied several times in writing to the regional khokimiyat (city administration) and to the tax office to be officially employed in the parking lot. We were willing to pay for the patent and all taxes. But despite all our appeals and letters, no one wants to properly formalize our work. “

Under the support of the Tashkent regional branch of the Society of the Deaf of Uzbekistan, they have repeatedly applied with such a request to higher government agencies. So, on 28 March 2017 (a copy of the letter is available in the editorial office), a similar petition was sent to the khokim of the Chilanzar district (at that time – Tokhir Mirkhidoyatov, in April of the same year he was replaced by Davron Khidoyatov). The general director of the “Markaziy Ippodrom” enterprise Agzam Izbosarov for permission allocate a parking space in the area of ​​the Hippodrome sports complex on the vacated territory of the former tram line and allow a group of up to five men with hearing impairments to work there as parking attendants.

These deaf men have already worked informally in the parking lot of the Central Tashkent Hippodrome since 2009. In a conversation with me, they told me that on their own they put things in order on the road located next to the Chilanzar clothing market, landscaped the parking lot – levelled the road after the old tram line and cleared the entire area from ​​the garbage. However, despite numerous requests from the Society of the Deaf, the Markaziy Ippodrom enterprise has not formalized their work per the law. On the contrary, the management of the hippodrome did not want to cooperate with them and asked them to immediately vacate the parking lot, while hiring new non-disabled parking attendants.

“These are not strangers’ guys (hearing parking attendants – ed.). I gave an order to all of them (most likely we are talking about a job order – author’s note). Do not misunderstand me – this is state land, and for how many years I provided them (deaf parking attendants – ed.) with the opportunity to work. Is it such gratitude to me for such support ?! So much we have illegally allowed them to work. I myself gave them permission. They won’t work legally. Will they pay taxes to the state? They will not be able to keep records, explained Abdujabbor Uzakov, chief accountant of the Markaziy Ippodrom enterprise, in a telephone conversation.

“The director treats us very rudely and says that these are our problems. Why does the hippodrome management refuse to listen to us? Because we are deaf? Where is our government looking? We are also the same people as they are. Why do they divide us into deaf and hearing? Why don’t they trust us with our work? We have already worked in the parking lot for more than ten years without any emergencies,” said one of the deaf parking attendants who suffered from the armed attack with insult.

“We are street people, and no one needs us”

Probably, many of us notice men burnt in the sun in the parking lots of Tashkent, regulating the flow of cars with homemade batons and whistles. But few people wonder why they ended up on the street. And why are deaf people most often busy in parking lots? Some may think that they are ordinary street beggars who extort money from drivers. Others may give a small change out of pity for them. But no one thinks about their living conditions and social protection.

A deaf parking attendant, with whom I was able to talk openly, said that he began his career in 1988 in one of the training and production enterprises (UPP in Russian) under the Society of the Deaf. After receiving three years of work experience, he left the enterprise and began to earn his living as a common labourer. Starting in the 2000s, he started working in a parking lot. He is upset that he lost so many years in informal employment and now does not have enough work experience to receive a proper pension in old age.

“The owners of the parking lots tell us that we are deaf and we cannot officially work. But we have been working for several years, we ourselves can drive a car. We are street people, no one needs us,” the deaf parking attendant despaired while talking to me.

It turned out that deaf people from the regions – Surkhandarya, Fergana, Andijan and other areas – work with him in the parking lot. They temporarily live in groups in rented apartments in Tashkent in poor living conditions. The principle of their work and protection against possible emergencies is based on the motto “one for all and all for one”. If cars are scratched in the parking lot, or a collision occurs, or when things disappear from the parked cars, the deaf parking attendants themselves are financially responsible for all this with their entire team. And such incidents occur at least once a month.

One of their partners, originally from the Bukhara region, worked hard in the parking lot until the very end. He recently passed away. He was diagnosed with liver cancer. In total, their three deaf friends died from so-called “occupational diseases,” as my interlocutor told me. They cannot afford medical care, and many deaf parking attendants work to the last. If a person gets sick, he is left without any help and money. Therefore, deaf parking attendants are forced to work both in the heat and in the cold winter, even if their health condition does not allow them. Due to constant exposure to the sun and without the protection of the eyes from the sun’s radiation, some even lose their sight. One member of their group went blind while working in a parking lot and became deafblind.

Unemployment and discrimination in the open labour market

In a certificate of disability, Medical and Labour Expert Commissions (VTEK) give their opinion and recommendations on professional, and work activities. They most often indicate that people with hearing impairments “can work in specially created conditions.” This, most likely, means specialized training and production enterprises (UPP) of the deaf, which have been operating for a long time under the Society of the Deaf of Uzbekistan. There are ten such enterprises in Uzbekistan, which employ only about 240-250 deaf and hard of hearing people.

“Most of deaf people work in Tashkent UPP No. 1 and in Andijan – 80 people each. And in the rest of the UPPs in the regions employ an averag 20 deaf people. In Samarkand, the UPP has been idle for a long time. In Khodjeyli (Karakalpakstan), the UPP has a large building, built back in Soviet times, but the enterprise is not provided with the volume of production – it employs 5-6 people. In Kashkadarya, the UPP is now being rebuilt with the help of the regional hokimiyat. It is planned that the enterprise in Karshi will employ about 400 deaf people. However, all UPPs of the Society of the Deaf are located in regional centers and large cities – in Kokand, Namangan, Samarkand, Bukhara and Karshi. And in Gulistan, Fergana, Navoi and Termez there are no specialised production facilities at all,” notes Magrupjan Inagamov, specialist in rehabilitation work of the Central Board of the Society of the Deaf of Uzbekistan.

According to the Society of the Deaf, as of 2019, more than 21,600 people with hearing impairments are officially registered in the country, including about 5,700 students in specialized boarding schools. Today there are about 10,100 members of the Society. Based on these figures, one can understand that there is an acute shortage of special jobs for working-age deaf people. Deaf parking attendants complained precisely about the lack of jobs in the UPP system. Even if there are vacancies, they are unhappy with the offered wages and working conditions.

“Salaries are different everywhere. For example, in the Andijan UPP they said that they work well and their salaries are normal. More than 1 million soums (less than $100 per month) are received in the furniture shop in Tashkent UPP No. 1. Women working in the napkin workshop have lower wages. Deaf parking attendants often turn to me and say that they are being kicked out of their places of work. Today I wrote to the administration of the cafe regarding their parking lot. The deaf man complains that he is being kicked out, and that another has come in his place – a healthy, hearing person. It’s a shame for a deaf person, of course. I suggest they go to work at the enterprise. There are offers from firms for employment. They disagree. They are not satisfied with the working conditions at the enterprises: a 10-12-hour working day, a salary of about 1 million soums. They have more income in the parking lot. And we cannot blame them for this. A person is looking for where it is better. The deaf are not to blame for the fact that they have had such a time – the transition to market conditions,” says Lyubov Inogamova, chairman of the Tashkent regional branch of the Society of the Deaf of Uzbekistan.

According to her, up to 450 deaf people used to work at such large enterprises as the Chkalov Tashkent Aviation Production Association during Soviet times. At the Tashselmash plant, there were about 250 people. At the Tashkent Tractor Plant – 70 people. 500-700 people were employed in Tashkent UPP No. 1. Visitors from the countryside were provided with places in dormitories for deaf people. And now there are no dormitories under regions UPP for deaf people from districts and villages.

It was not for nothing that a deaf parking attendant told me that many deaf people come from Termez and Fergana to work in the capital’s parking lots – all because there are no UPP there. The worst thing is that not only men work unofficially in parking lots, but also some deaf women, who are mainly forced to earn extra money in underground passages and other public places, offering weighing services to passers-by on their floor scales.

“Deaf people have tremendous difficulty finding work. Deaf people are not accepted into enterprises. They don’t hear, they don’t speak, they don’t have a good education, they can’t work in qualified, highly paid jobs. Disability pensions of deaf people are miserable and not enough for living and maintaining a family and children. In deaf families, as a rule, both husband and wife are deaf. There are small children. Children need to be raised, clothed and educated. You have to pay for everything. Deaf, physically healthy men, they want to work according to their abilities and earn extra money as they can. Including as the parking attendnats at the parking lots,” says the letter from the Society of the Deaf to the Markaziy Ippodrom enterprise.

People with hearing impairments face barriers not only in the national labour market but also in the external one. The Agency for External Labour Migration provides support to citizens of Uzbekistan in realizing their right to work abroad – in Russia, South Korea and other countries. However, deaf people cannot exercise this right on an equal basis with hearing labour migrants. The Agency denies deaf people because they do not have a speciality and relevant professions. Most deaf men are uneducated, and it has even been found that some of the deaf parking attendants cannot read or write, let alone have vocational training.

Already being a socially vulnerable category of the population – as disabled people – deaf people put themselves in even greater danger by working in difficult and unsafe conditions in street parking lots. Their work is not socially protected by the state, which also contributes to their greater vulnerability. It is a mistake to assume that working as a parking attendant is an easy money-maker for many unemployed deaf men. They are forced to go to the parking lots due to unemployment – a lack of jobs especially in regional UPPs, discrimination based on disability in the open labour market, illiteracy and low education or even lack of it.

State support in the field of employment of disabled people

The problem of employment of disabled people is one of the most acute social problems of Uzbekistan today. As you can see, the central board of the Society of the Deaf of Uzbekistan, which regulates the issues of production of the deaf at the UPPs, is not able to single-handedly provide all deaf and hard of hearing people of working age with work and decent working conditions. The Society’s written appeals to district khokimiyats are left without any attention, which also shows the attitude of the responsible officials.

Thanks to the recent decree of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, measures of state support for enterprises of disabled people in conditions of the market economy were taken. In particular, if such an enterprise has disabled employees with at least 50% of the staff, and the payroll for their labour is at least 50% of the total, then it is exempt from paying taxes on profit, value-added, property, and also has a reduced land tax rate. Besides, state customers are given quotas for the purchase of goods (works, services) from such enterprises according to the list approved by non-governmental non-profit organizations of disabled people in agreement with the Ministry of Finance.

The law “On social protection of disabled people” provides for a mandatory quota of at least 3% of the number of workers for the employment of disabled people in government agencies, in the private sector and public organizations, where more than 20 people are employed. However, in practice, even government agencies do not follow the law by not hiring disabled people for civil service, which, by the way, could serve as an excellent example for small and medium-sized businesses. If the government agencies themselves do this and themselves remain unpunished (administrative punishment is provided for failure to fill the quota – author’s note), what can be expected from private enterprises?

In the presidential decree of 11 June 2018, it was noted that the possibilities of public associations of disabled people and business entities in involving disabled people in labour are not fully used. The document introduced additional benefits and preferences for enterprises in which at least 50% of the staff are disabled people. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry, together with public organizations, was instructed to raise awareness on these benefits and preferences, as well as on the prevention of discrimination based on disability, ensuring equal conditions for the realization of their rights, freedoms and legitimate interests and the inevitability of responsibility for their violation.

According to the central presidential decree on measures to radically improve the system of state support for people with disabilities dated 1 December 2017, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Economy and the State Tax Committee were entrusted with the responsibility to create a Fund for Support of Disabled People under the Ministry of Health. Creation of specialized jobs for disabled people was identified as one of the activities of the foundation. And the primary source of replenishment of the Fund’s was considered to be deductions if the 3% quota for the employment of disabled people provided by law was not filled. However, it is still unknown how much money the Fund received from administrative penalties for such offences.

The absence of a single coordinating body in the field of social protection of disabled and other vulnerable categories of the population in Uzbekistan, which would protect the rights and interests of disabled children and adults, is one of the main reasons for the lack of an effective and comprehensive approach to solving the accumulated problems in the sphere of social protection. Social protection functions are dispersed among many ministries and departments, and it is not clear who is responsible for their employment and creating favourable conditions in the labour market.

Why is our indifference to the fate of deaf people dangerous?

The Goskomstat data as of 1 June 2019, provided to the editorial board of Gazeta.uz, do not show the number of registered people with hearing and other types of impairments – the only statistics available is the number of disabled people broken down by disability group. In interviews with deaf parking attendants, it turned out that some of them do not have a disability group and do not receive appropriate social benefits, which makes them invisible to government agencies that should provide them with social support. This, in turn, impedes the development of effective and comprehensive social policies based on reliable and complete statistics.

The existing registration system by the VTEK authorities is based on the utterly obsolete definition of disability as incapacity for work, which is a legacy of the Soviet social protection system. The inscription of VTEK in the certificate of disability about the opportunity to work only “in conditions specially created for them” discriminates against disabled people in the open labour market. A potential employer, seeing this inscription, can say that he is not entitled to employ a person with a hearing impairment, even if he is physically capable and ready to perform work on an equal basis with other employees without any impairments.

The words of Abdujabbor Uzakov, chief accountant of the Markaziy Ippodrom enterprise, testify to prejudices and far-fetched stereotypes about the working abilities of people with hearing impairments. If they have already worked and have been doing their job well for about ten years, why did the hippodrome management suddenly need to drive them out of the parking lot? The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that disabled people have the same right to work as non-disabled people.

“Prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all matters concerning all forms of employment, including conditions of recruitment, hiring and employment, continuance of employment, career advancement and safe and healthy working conditions,” says Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. which Uzbekistan signed in 2009 but has not yet ratified.

The hard work of deaf parking attendants must be formalized following labour code, ensuring all their rights to be able to earn their decent living by their labour on an equal basis with others. The apathy of the state and society to these social problems may lead to even more deplorable circumstances in the future in the struggle for survival on the streets of our capital. Exclusion of people with hearing impairments in the domestic labour market may lead to increased social tension in the Uzbek society. The source of all these troubles is unemployment and lack of decent work opportunities for socially vulnerable citizens of our country.

P. S. Unfortunately, none of the relevant state bodies paid attention to the issues raised in the article and the deaf parking attendants are still facing the same problems in the streets of Tashkent. The COVID-19 pandemic and strict quarantine measures introduced in Uzbekistan severely hit the deaf parking attendants’ livelihood opportunities in the informal market and left many other deaf people on the brink of survival. I will keep watching closely the situation with the employment of deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Uzbekistan.

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