Type and legal personality
The legal framework of sheltered employment provision varies. In the majority of cases the structures are private establishments, usually run by voluntary associations or as cooperatives or, more rarely, as genuine commercial enterprises. (In Ireland, South Africa and Portugal all the structures are private.) The composition of the sector as a whole varies from situations in which sheltered workshops are run by many small, voluntary associations, some of them managing just one establishment, to a situation in which a single entity predominates (as in the case of Remploy in the United Kingdom) or even constitutes the entire sector (such as Samhall, a foundation that became a limited liability company in 1992, in Sweden). Individual sheltered workshops employ on average between 30 and 90 disabled persons.
Overall, the sheltered employment sector has been growing significantly, although obviously the pace of growth varies between countries. In a soft labour market, disabled workers are a particularly vulnerable group and have great difficulty finding a job on the open market, in which case sheltered employment establishments can help by offering more positions to disabled persons seeking work.
Although in many countries it is difficult to quantify the development of such arrangements over the past ten years, the following figures reveal a marked growth in the sector: in Spain, the number of places in sheltered workshops (centros especiales de empleo) has more than doubled since 1987, to a current total of 14 000; in France, the work-based assistance centres (centres d’aide par le travail) have increased their capacity by 20 000 (33 per cent) and the sheltered workshops (ateliers protégés) by 5 000 (80 per cent) over a ten-year period. In the United States, over the past five years the number of jobs available in workshops for severely handicapped persons run by the NISH (i.e. only a part of the sheltered environment), has risen from 15 000 to almost 26 000.
By contrast, in Sweden, over the past ten years there has been virtually no change in the number of jobs on offer by the Samhall enterprise to disabled workers (27 000), though the percentage this represents of the total population is among the highest in Europe. In Quebec, the number of sheltered workshops (centres de travail adapté) remained stable from 1982 up to 1996, when it began to increase. In India, a recent decision to establish a fund for the employment of disabled persons may be expected to have an impact on sheltered employment. In Costa Rica, over 60 per cent of the sheltered workshops operating today were set up during the past ten years. Sometimes, the sector grows and evolves at the same time, as in the case of Remploy in the United Kingdom. Active in sheltered employment for over 50 years, this enterprise is now focusing on increasing the numbers of interworkers, i.e. employees placed by Remploy in regular enterprises.