Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. M. Ahern: In recent years there has been a number of agreements between the social partners, the Programme for National Recovery, the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. All sides, the unions, employers and the Government, have benefited from these agreements. Under the Programme for National  Recovery and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress local authorities could arrange social employment schemes, CEDP schemes and other part-time work schemes subject to the agreement of the trade unions involved. Many local authorities made great use of those schemes which provided work for hundreds and enabled many useful projects to be carried out.
Despite the efforts of Dublin Corporation, the trade unions refused to allow community employment schemes to be established under the Programme for National Recovery and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. The members of Dublin Corporation were very happy with the Programme for Competitiveness and Work and were informed that the ICTU had given approval to the establishment of these schemes on a nationwide basis and that instructions would be issued to all its unions acquainting it accordingly — the finer details were to be decided at local level.
Despite several weeks of negotiations Dublin Corporation officials and unions representing its workers have not reached agreement on the community employment schemes. I am disappointed at the failure of the unions to agree to these schemes. I have been a trade union member for many years and I do not believe in bashing unions but I am very disappointed that they have refused to allow the setting up of community employment schemes under the Programme for Competitiveness and Work. They talk about their concern for unemployed people but they are not doing anything about them in this case. I hope the Minister will take a personal interest in this matter and talk to Bill Attley, Philip Flynn or other top officials of the ICTU which I understand gave an undertaking that the schemes would be approved. Much work could be carried out in Dublin under these schemes — the corporation has a long list of suitable projects — and 500 to 600 jobs could be created. I am very disappointed at the refusal of the trade unions to agree to these schemes and would like to know if  the Minister can do anything to get the show back on the road.
Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. Quinn): I share the Deputy's concern about this matter. In the Programme for Competitiveness and Work, the social partners committed themselves to full co-operation and flexibility both at national and local levels in the operation of employment programmes, including programmes within all parts of the public sector, so as to ensure the successful operation of employment initiatives. Despite this commitment, I am aware that there are ongoing difficulties in Dublin Corporation in securing approval from the trade unions in the corporation for sponsorship by the corporation of projects under the community employment programme.
I understand from FÁS, which has been in regular contact with management in Dublin Corporation, that discussions are continuing between management and the trade unions and I would urge all concerned to try to resolve the existing difficulties with a view to allowing the provision of much needed opportunities for persons who are long term unemployed in the Dublin Corporation area. There is a high level of long term unemployment in the area and people there who are long term unemployed would obviously be very interested in participating in locally based projects under community employment. The programme is evidence of the Government's commitment to the long term unemployed and to its acceptance that despite the pick up in economic activity and the downward trend in unemployment in recent months direct Government intervention will continue to be required for the foreseable future in order to assist people who are long term unemployed.
For this reason, the Government has committed resources of £183 million for the community employment programme in 1994 and further resources will be made available should they become necessary so as to ensure that the end year target of 40,000 is reached. There were 29,325 people on the programme on 24 June involved in projects spread throughout the country, but tragically  none were in the Dublin Corporation area.
Community employment provides part-time work together with personal and skills development opportunities averaging 19½ hours per week for the unemployed for at least one year and for up to three years in the case of the older long term unemployed. The programme is operated as a key resource in areas covered by the local development programme where special additional efforts will be made to improve the progression chances of participants through co-ordinated area action. Projects operated under the programme are for community and public benefit and may be sponsored by public bodies and voluntary organisations. Commercial State or private companies are eligible to sponsor special projects to be carried out under the local development programme. In a special effort to assist the most disadvantaged of the unemployed — the older very long term unemployed — 25 per cent of all available places have been set aside for those over 45 years of age who have been unemployed for three years or more.
All participants retain those secondary and other social welfare benefits to which they had been entitled prior to participation. They include entitlements such as the Christmas bonus, fuel vouchers, butter vouchers, beef vouchers, medical card, variable local authority rent and supplementary welfare payments such as the back to school footwear and clothing allowance, mortgage relief etc. Obviously the retention of these entitlements, coupled with the fact that the basic allowances are significantly higher than unemployment compensation payments represent a significant financial incentive to prospective participants.
FÁS estimates that at least 5,000 additional places could be made available in local authorities if industrial relations problems in a number of such bodies were resolved. At present, a total of 11,000 opportunities are available or have been approved in local authorities. I have been advised that there is scope for approximately 600 opportunities in the Dublin Corporation area.
 I am satisfied that community employment, with its mixture of work-based opportunities and training and development modules, represents a decisive shift towards a participant centred approach, emphasising the need to provide useful work and skills for participants. The programme is providing worthwhile opportunities for the long term unemployed and for this reason I share the concern of Deputy Ahern and other Deputies who are also members of Dublin City Council that the trade unions in Dublin Corporation continue to prevent and resist the introduction of the programme by the corporation. I appeal to the local shop stewards to seriously consider that by their actions opportunities are being denied to persons who, unlike them, are not employed. I also appeal to the unions involved at national level to become involved with a view to achieving a resolution of this matter.
I have taken a personal interest in this matter and have had direct contacts with representatives of ICTU and, as recently as today, with senior management of Dublin Corporation. I assure Deputy Ahern, whose bona fides and commitment to this matter are known to me, and the other members of the Dublin City Council that I am determined to ensure that the opportunities under the community employment programme will be fully availed of by the citizens of Dublin through Dublin Corporation, with the full co-operation of the trade union movement which has given a solemn and binding undertaking to do so in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.
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