Unions warn of growing crisis in local employment services

Unions oppose tendering process being undertaken by Department of Social Protection

There is a growing crisis in local employment services and jobs clubs across the country, trade unions will tell an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday.

Unions are strongly opposed to what they maintain are moves by the Department of Social Protection to allow private companies to bid, as part of a tender process, for new State contracts to run programmes to assist people getting back into the workforce.

The trade unions Siptu and Fórsa will highlight their concerns at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on Wednesday.

Siptu public administration and community division organiser, Adrian Kane said on Tuesday ahead of the hearing it was the unions' strong belief that the tendering process undertaken by the Department of Social Protection was "deeply flawed". He said it would "ultimately lead to an inferior service being provided and will result in significant job losses for our members".

“This cannot be allowed to happen,” he said.

“Union representatives have proposed a stakeholder forum that includes community organisations, service users, elected representatives, workers’ representatives and academics as a fair and inclusive way forward. We believe that a forum is essential for building a real consensus around the future provision of public employment services,” he said.

“We do not believe that marketisation of these essential social services works or enjoys popular support. We will be calling on the members of the committee to support our campaign to halt the tendering process and to allow a full and wider debate about the future provision of these services with workers’ welfare at its heart.”

Fórsa assistant general secretary Lynn Coffey said the unions were seeking a pause to be put on the proposed tendering process.

“Experience shows that turning these services, and the people who need them, into a profit-driving commodity is simply unworkable.”

She said service users needed to be considered first, “particularly at a time when the pandemic has inflicted so much damage on the labour market”.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys told the Dáil in July that she was obliged for "good governance and public procurement rules" to put the local employment services contracts out for tender.

Ms Humphreys insisted that “it is wrong to look at this tender as a move away from a not-for-profit model to a payment-by-result model”.

She added: “I have to put this out for tender”, but “we have put a strong focus on the connections with the local community providers and there is no reason why they can’t continue to be successful.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent