Community employment staff to protest at ‘imminent threat of privatisation’

Unions urge Taoiseach to intervene over tendering process for employment services

Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Several hundred staff in local employment services and job clubs are to stage a work stoppage and a protest outside Leinster House in Dublin on Monday against what they described as the “imminent threat of privatisation”.

The trade unions Siptu and Fórsa, which represent the workers, will ask Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene personally in the dispute.

The action on Monday is one of the first industrial-relations stoppages and protests since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic almost 18 months ago.

The unions are calling for an immediate halt to what they maintain are moves 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 unions maintain that the new tendering process favours for-profit providers over the current community-focused, not-for-profit service.

They argue that this would result in “privatisation, job losses and a diminished employment service unless the Government changes course”.

Siptu public administration and community division organiser, Adrian Kane, said: “Our action which is backed by both unions and employers is to highlight the decision by the Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, to change the tendering process for the provision of these essential local employment services. The reality is that these workers and local development companies have been providing these essential public services for over 25 years very successfully and now after all those years of loyal service have been left with no other option but to take to the streets to fight for their jobs and livelihoods.”

He said calls for an urgent meeting with the Minister had “consistently been met with silence”.

“This is not acceptable or sustainable. What is needed now is for the Taoiseach to step in and establish a genuine stakeholder forum to agree a fair way forward. If this does not happen, this dispute will only escalate further and that will undoubtedly have an impact on these essential community services.”

Fórsa official Lynn Coffey said jobs had been lost already and more were on the line if the planned changes went ahead “with the prospect of staff being thrown out of work as early as January”.

“At the very least, pay and working conditions are likely to be greatly diminished. ”

‘Travesty’

Speaking in advance of a protest, local employment service manager in Mayo Orlagh Denneny said: “Privatising these essential services would be a travesty. Privatisation does not work in community services. It results in chronic long-term unemployment and subsequent social problems for those individuals who have many barriers to employment.”

Responding to questions on the issue in the Dáil in July, the Minister said 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.”

The Department of Social Protection said in July that as part of its economic stimulus plan the Government had committed to increasing resources dedicated to the delivery of employment services within its own Intreo service, and to expand the coverage of the local employment services to areas not currently covered by existing providers.

“The department has already increased its own complement of case-officer staff and has issued a request for tender [RFT] to expand local employment services in some regions where there is currently no local employment service.

It said the RFT was required to comply with European Union procurement rules, and has no impact on the contracts of existing providers who were encouraged to respond to the process.