EFC joins Taprobane Seafood to bring employment to persons with disabilities

As Taprobane Seafood continues to expand its business, opening more factories across the island, the company eagerly partnered with the EFC’s Disability Network to ensure that persons with disabilities were also given the opportunity to work at the new seafood processing plants. On a windy Sunday morning at the start of this month, Taprobane Seafood Managing Director Tim O’Reilly and his Operations Manager Kanesasundram Thusithan, headed up to their Jaffna crab processing plant for a very special visit.

The Jaffna plant which was opened at the end of 2012 along with a similar one in Killinochi is involved in the purchase and processing of crab meat for export markets, mainly in the USA.

The company, which is firmly committed to regenerating livelihoods especially in post conflict regions such as Jaffna, started operations with a workforce of 700 but in less than two years they have successfully created jobs and sustainable livelihoods for over a thousand employees.

Having worked in the region since the company started, O’Reilly was fully aware that the level of disability in the north was significantly higher than the global average, as a result of the thirty year conflict. The company was keen to create a diverse workforce which included differently abled workers and reflected the predominantly female demographic of the population in the area.

This morning’s visit, was to formally welcome some of Taprobane’s newest recruits, all differently abled employees, and to open Sara House, the purpose built accommodation nearby.

To assist with the recruitment process, TSF enlisted the help of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC). The EFC through their work with the International Labour Organisation’s LEED Project (Local Empowerment through Economic Development) has been working in the north since 2011 training, developing and placing persons with disabilities into mainstream jobs, and linking them to established supply chains, with the help of the 600 plus employer companies who are members of the EFC, and who have operations in the region.

The EFC’s project manager Jeyabeulah Jeyagunaruban was more than happy to work with the TSF team, on the recruitment process. Once she had met with Thusithan and been to the plant to understand the job requirements, she contacted local community welfare programs and spoke to many hundreds of women with disabilities, before presenting TSF with a list of suitable candidates.

Jeyagunaruban applauded TSF’s proactivity in wanting to hire more persons with disabilities, and the dedication of its managers, “TSF is very interested to hire differently abled persons,” she said. “Mr. Thusithan was highly motivated and very supportive towards this initiative. He showed incredible flexibility in understanding their different ways of working and their needs in the workplace. He would look at how work practices could be adapted to enable persons with different abilities to do the processing work. Mr. Thusithan was also very open to hearing about their home issues and seeing how TSF could help with work life balance.”

Understanding that mobility, transport costs and getting to work is an issue for most persons with disabilities, TSF created Sara House, a purpose built accommodation for the workers situated near to the factory. The house was named in honour of O’Reilly’s cousin Sara, who herself had a spinal disorder.

“Sara House will enable 25 people with disabilities to live and work in a safe and tolerant environment,” O’Reilly said. “This new initiative is the consequence of a collaboration between Taprobane Seafood and the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon, facilitated by the International Labour Organisation’s local empowerment through economic development project.”

TSF successfully recruited 15 women with disabilities to work in the plant and live at Sara House. Satheeskumar Yogeswary was one of the successful candidates. Having sustained a shrapnel wound in her arm, Satheeskumar resigned herself to the idea that she would never be able to work. “From the time I had my injury I was never able to find work or EARN MONEY for myself. I heard about this job from the welfare place in my local community. I am so happy to be able to work.”