Adjournment Matter. - Jobsearch Scheme.

Saturday, 25 April 1987

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 116 No. 1

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Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I will be totally disorderly at the beginning and say I agree with everything Senator Lanigan and Senator Manning said about the staff of the House, etc. I just did not see any point in standing up twice to say it.

The Jobsearch scheme was announced by the Government in the budget. A Jobsearch scheme can have a variety of meanings and interpretations. I know, for instance, that in that most enlighted of countries, Sweden, they operate schemes similar to what an enlightened Jobsearch scheme would contain. By that device, among other devices, apart of course [277] from their extremely enlightened industrial, economic and other policies which all go under the general tag of the almost forgotten word in this country “socialism”, they have succeeded in keeping unemployment at extraordinarily low levels and defeating many of the unfortunate consequences of unemployment in terms of social decay, social alienation etc.

I listened with some interest when the Minister for Finance announced far from precisely what was contained in the Jobsearch programme. Certain qualified remarks were made. I saw a report in the newspaper that the Minister for Social Welfare had given an assurance that nobody would be expected to work or to take anything under the Jobsearch scheme, which would result in them having an income less than their unemployment benefit or assistance. One of the things I hope the Minister will do tonight is to assure me that is not what he said because for a single person the flat rate unemployment assistance is £35 per week. I sincerely hope that is not what the Minister had in mind. I am fairly certain, knowing the Minister and the general traditions of the party he belongs to, that it would not be the intention that people would work for that sort of figure. I look forward to the Minister's clarification.

Recently newspaper reports emerged and at the same time a copy of what are called “The Jobsearch Guidelines” came into my possession. There are many extradordinary questions to be asked not about the positive objectives being presented as being behind the Jobsearch scheme but rather the judgmental implications of various aspects of the Jobsearch scheme and the way matters are raised within the Jobsearch scheme. What came into my possession may perhaps be incomplete, it may be unrepresentative, it may be inadequate, it may be a lot of things, but nevertheless it is a document which, if it is incomplete, deserves to be completed by having the remainder published. If it is complete, it should be published in the widest possible [278] scale so that people will know what is involved in the Jobsearch scheme.

The Jobsearch Guidelines are based on a Government directive that:

(1) 150,000 currently on the Live Register should be put through the jobsearch process.

That is not the happiest of language to use when one is talking about people who are the victims of the single greatest injustice in our country today, which is unemployment, and the consequential damage that does to people. To talk about putting such people through a jobsearch process is a little like processing sausages in a sausage factory. These things can happen, but it is unhappy language. The Jobsearch Guidelines continue:

...in which a minimum of 40,000 manpower scheme opportunities will be offered to them from 1st April to 31st December, 1987, with a substantial bias towards people who are longer on the Live Register.

Leaving aside the unhappy language, the objective of getting people who are a long time on the unemployed register doing something that is beneficial and worth while is a good idea. The obvious ultimate idea would be to put them all back to work, doing decent, meaningful jobs which will earn a reasonable income for them. That seems to be a perfectly reasonable objective and any sort of interventionist scheme devised by the State which has that objective I would support. The ESRI long ago pointed out that the only real way to make an impact on unemployment in this country — even given proper fiscal policy and given a restoration of proper budgetary balance by the Government — would be through an expanded public service. This is something that is frequently forgotten. The entire economic staff of the ESRI said we would need to expand the public service in order seriously to have an impact on unemployment, even if the budgetary problems were straightened out. Any sort of State scheme which is going to give people something decent to do by [279] way of training or work, is something I would support.

The document goes on to say:

(2) Jobsearch courses should be provided for an additional 12,000 people from 1st May to 31st December, 1987.

What one would then expect is some elaboration of what this meant but what one gets instead is the following:

(3) people who

(i) do not attend for a jobsearch interview,

(ii) do not accept the reasonable offer of an interview with a private sector employer,

(iii) do not accept the reasonable offer of a place in a manpower scheme,

(iv) do not attend for an employer interview scheme or course or,

(v) are dismissed from schemes or courses because they are uncooperative,

should be notified by the Department of Social Welfare for a decision on their disallowance for unemployment benefit or assistance.

What an extraordinary one-sided judgmental set of terms of reference to write into something that ought to be positive, enlightened and people-orientated, apart altogether from whether that is the proper approach.

Let us reflect on some of the words used, “who do not accept the reasonable offer of a place on a Manpower scheme, who do not accept the reasonable offer of an interview”. Who is to interpret what is reasonable? Is there any way in which somebody who is adjudicated not to have accepted a reasonable offer can appeal against that adjudication? We do not know. All we know is that people should be reported to the Department of Social Welfare for a decision on their disallowance for unemployment benefit or assistance. The positive philosophy which [280] was presented to us as being the motivating force behind this scheme is now lost in virtually the opening paragraph of the guidelines in what looks suspiciously like a witchhunt for people who are allegedly not really part of the deserving poor among the ranks of the unemployed.

Minister for Social Welfare (Dr. Woods): Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Could the Senator give me the reference to the document he has?

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I wish I could. My motion is that I wish to raise the failure by the Minister to publish the detailed guidelines issued on the operation of the Jobsearch scheme. The document I have was referred to in a number of newspaper articles over the past week or so. If the Minister is telling me that what I am referring to——

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  On a point of order, is it not normal procedure if a Senator has a document to which he is referring and if the document is presumably from some organisation——

Acting Chairman (Mr. McDonald): Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  It is the procedure when Senators quote from a document to give the House the benefit of the reference. Perhaps the Senator for the record would indicate from what he is quoting?

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I am quoting from this document. I do not intend to be in the least bit flippant if the Minister tells me this is a concoction which has no connection with his Department then I shall be suitably reproved and I will sit down. The only reference on the document is a heading “Jobsearch Guidelines”. I am satisfied that the person from whom I got it, whose name I will not disclose, was equally satisfied that it came from the Department of Social Welfare. I have no way of verifying that until the Minister formally publishes the detailed guidelines issued on the operation of the Jobsearch scheme.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  As far as I can understand, for the benefit of the Senator and the [281] House this is not a document from the Department of Social Welfare. I am quite happy to reply to the points the Senator is making but I want that clear because it may have come from another organisation.

Mrs. Robinson: Information on Mary Robinson  Zoom on Mary Robinson  Could the Minister indicate from what organisation the document came?

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Senator has the document.

Mr. B. Ryan: Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  I have a copy of it. It is a document which begins with the heading “Jobsearch Guidelines” and goes through a number of things. From reading it I have reason to believe that it is authoritative in the sense that it came from some organ of the State. I am equally prepared to believe the Minister when he says it is not from his Department. However, it does make reference to the National Manpower Service and the placement officers. If the Minister is telling me that it is all made up that is fair enough. I would like to refer to a report in The Irish Press of 23 April 1987 by Aileen O'Meara, in which she refers to the new Jobsearch guidelines issued to civil servants. I can assure the House I did not get this from Miss O'Meara. I am more than happy, if the Minister tells me that it is all nonsense, to sit down because I would be very relieved if that was the case. I hope that after he tells me it is all nonsense he will then agree to publish the guidelines that have been issued to officers of his Department and to the National Manpower Service for the operation of this scheme because that is my objective.

I do not like the idea of having to make judgments about a major scheme such as this which could be positive on the basis of a leaked document, the precise authority of which I cannot judge but until I get something better I have to judge by what I have in my possession. As the Minister I am sure, will tell us, it is an extremely important area and one that deserves to be dealt with thoroughly and extremely sensitively. The scheme should [282] be a detailed and determined effort to help those who are longest on the unemployment register to find some way out of that dead-end. Instead of that, it is liable to become a witchhunt for those who are seen or understood to be somehow less than enthusiastic about work.

People should not be forced to work for anything less than a reasonable wage. They should not be forced to work in jobs that are not consistent with their own skills, training and aspirations. Those two things must be fundamental to all of this. People should not be forced to go on training schemes that bear no relationship to their expressed aspirations or to their previous training. That is an excuse to get people off the unemployment register which contributes nothing to their dignity and indeed will cause further alienation. I do not want to pursue the rest of the detail of the document before me. It deals with the compilation of statistics, the completion of the Jobsearch report form, the interview process and the detail statistics. The document concludes:

A supply of the weekly Jobsearch return will issue shortly.

The document may well be incomplete. If it is, then the Minister can confirm this and meet the nub of the issue I raised here, the failure to publish the detailed guidelines. An issue like this, which impinges so much on people's dignity, is one that should be done publicly and openly; we shall all know the proposed objectives, procedures and plans and how people will be dealt with. I look forward, therefore, to the Minister's reply.

Minister for Social Welfare (Dr. Woods): Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  I gave this House a comprehensive statement on the Jobsearch programme when the Social Welfare Bill was being debated on 3 April last. I outlined the programme broadly then and I explained that its principal aim was to help the unemployed. I am the Minister responsible for the National Jobsearch Programme and my Department are being assisted in its implementation by the National Manpower Service and AnCO. I have already [283] set out the general principles and the way in which the programme will operate. These have been approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

I presume the Senator's motion refers to the staff guidelines and operating manuals which were being prepared as part of the detailed day-to-day operation of the programme. Having listened to what the Senator said, I assume that the document may have been an original draft of a certain section. He may know more about that than I do.

It is not normal practice for Government Departments or their agencies to publish detailed operational instructions to the staff in respect of the various schemes or programmes they operate. In contrast, any statutory instructions are of course published. In the case of Jobsearch my Department have been finalising operational details in consultation, where necessary, with the National Manpower Service and AnCO.

The present position with the National Jobsearch Programme is that: (i) The national director took up duty in my Department on 1 April last; (ii) One hundred and twenty staff members are being redeployed to my Department from other areas of the public service to ensure the immediate introduction of the Jobsearch Programme; (iii) AnCO and the National Manpower Service have redeployed their staff to give priority to the long term unemployed who are referred to them as part of the programme; (iv) The National Jobsearch Programme became fully operational on Thursday 22 April when the employment exchanges commenced referrals for jobsearch interviews to Manpower.

For the information of Senators I am circulating copies of the introductory letter supplied to those who are referred to Manpower for interview. A new information leaflet has been prepared and will be available next week. (v) The Jobsearch courses conducted by AnCO will commence on 4 May throughout the country. The teaching manuals and other materials have been prepared by AnCO [284] for their own staff. By the end of December next 150,000 of those on the live register, especially those who are unemployed for quite some time, will be interviewed by the National Manpower Service.

The letter inviting them to the interview explains the programme. Copies of that letter are available for Senators if they wish to see it both in English and as Gaeilge. A person on first contact with an employment exchange will receive this letter which sets out in reasonable language and explains the positive nature of the scheme. It sets out the scheme very clearly. This would normally be part of the internal workings of the Department and such documents would go to everyone who is involved in the Jobsearch Programme.

The purpose of this interview is to help the person concerned to assess his or her strengths and to discuss the options which are available. They will then be given priority for any jobs that are available. At this stage those who get jobs leave the programme. The remainder will be considered for one of the 40,000 Manpower placements specially set aside for this programme and for one of 12,000 places on a Jobsearch course. This latter course, which is provided at an AnCO centre, extends over four weeks. It will include advice and assistance for participants on how to prepare and present themselves for a job interview. It will also include a detailed and professional assessment of aptitudes. Those on the course will have free access to typing and photocopying facilities, telephones, postage and stationery and will also receive a travel allowance. I refer Senators to the guidelines and the training manual which is quite extensive and which is available through AnCO. That is the appropriate place for it as that is where the Jobsearch Courses will be going on.

The whole Jobsearch exercise will be conducted in an atmosphere which will be especially helpful to the participants. I am aware that, in general, the officials who deal directly with the unemployed do so in a courteous way. While I have [285] no reason to expect any change in this I have, nevertheless, asked that courtesy and understanding be the hallmarks of the approach adopted in the Jobsearch Programme. As I have already said, the basic aim of this programme is to be of positive help to the unemployed. The extensive resources of the State in the social welfare, manpower and training areas are being co-ordinated in the interests of the long term unemployed.

They will receive priority under this programme. Up to now the incentive to search for jobs was largely left to the unemployed person. The Jobsearch Programme means that those who have not been successful so far in getting employment and especially those who have been unemployed for quite some time, with all the demoralisation which this can bring to them and to their families, will be offered direct help in their search. Those who are on the live register and genuinely seeking work have nothing to lose and everything to gain from this programme. Those who participate in the 40,000 Manpower scheme opportunities and the 12,000 Jobsearch places will continue to receive their social welfare entitlements or the normal allowance, while they are on an employment scheme, training or Jobsearch course. Those who are offered employment that is clearly not suitable to them will not be expected to accept it in accordance with normal practice in this area.

I mentioned earlier that my Department were being assisted through the Department of Labour by the National Manpower Service and AnCO in the operation of this programme. I have met with the director of the Manpower Service and the director-general of AnCO and their senior staff to outline the Government's commitment to this programme, to thank them for their co-operation and to ensure that the programme is a success. Their role in this national programme is a vital one. I am very pleased at the response that I have received from these two organisations and at the manner in which they are so helpfully and fully co-operating with my Department.

[286] I am aware from comments in the media that this programme has some critics. I must re-emphasise the fact that the Jobsearch Programme is designed to assist the long term unemployed. It is based on experience gained from pilot studies which were conducted in Letterkenny, Limerick and Tallaght. What we are doing now is extending this scheme on a nationwide basis. As Minister in charge I will, of course, be monitoring its progress.

Some of those on the live register, who are called for interview by the National Manpower Service, may not turn up for the interview or may not attend subsequently for a training course, an employment scheme opportunity or a Jobsearch course arranged for them. Some of these could, for example, be persons in the black economy, already in employment and thus not fulfilling the statutory conditions for the receipt of their social welfare payment. Cases such as these, where individuals are already working, will be reviewed by my Department and where there is reasonable evidence that the conditions for the receipt of payment are not fulfilled the payment will cease. Such people will, of course, have a right of appeal. Senators will realise that reviews such as this are common everyday practice in my Department. They do not apply to the unemployed who satisfy the various conditions for payment and they are certainly not new, nor have they just been introduced with Jobsearch. There is no way in which this programme can result in any man or woman being deprived of what he or she is legally entitled to under the Social Welfare Acts.

I referred to this aspect of the Jobsearch Programme in the Seanad on 3 April and as reported in the Official Report of that day at column 2092, column 2146 and column 2147, I pointed out very clearly the indirect effects which exist. As a result of that indirect effect if they have a second job naturally some people are going to find it difficult to go on a Jobsearch course as they will not be available. That is an indirect effect. I [287] emphasised the positive nature of the programme in the Seanad on that date.

In conclusion, the Jobsearch Programme is designed to be a positive aid to the long term unemployed. As Minister for Social Welfare I will ensure that it is implemented in this way. It will also have an indirect effect in identifying those who are not genuinely seeking employment. In the long run this can only benefit the unemployed who are genuinely seeking employment and also the taxpayer who is called on to meet the cost to the State of unemployment. Despite the impression which some critics try to convey, the Jobsearch Programme will benefit those who are seeking employment and will improve the State's services to them. It deserves our full support and encouragement.

In so far as the motion is concerned, I made quite clear the various elements [288] and the numbers participating in Jobsearch in the debate both in the Dáil and Seanad. I have already referred to the debate in the Seanad in relation to it. We had quite a discussion on it at that time. I do not recall Senator Ryan being present but it was discussed fairly comprehensively and many of the Senators asked questions about the intention. Subsequently, the Seanad voted in favour of the proposals. I would like to say to Senator Ryan that, as far as publishing any of the material which is relevant is concerned, we are making that material available to anyone who is interested in it. We have set out the parameters and we will continue to do so. It is a positive programme and we will press on with it in that way.

The Seanad adjourned at 11.30 p.m. sine die.


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