The Government is facing "a winter of complete discontent across the entire community sector" unless it addresses the threat of privatisation in local employment services, the trade union Siptu has warned.
Siptu said that about 200 staff in local employment services and job clubs staged a work stoppage and a protest outside Leinster House in Dublin on Monday.
Siptu and the trade union Fórsa, which represent the workers, asked Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene personally in the dispute.
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 on Monday: "Our members are determined to see this dispute through. The Taoiseach has been put on notice today that if he doesn't support our demands then his Government is sleepwalking into a winter of complete discontent across the entire community sector. Our members don't want that. We want to establish a genuine stakeholder forum to agree a fair way forward and settle this dispute. The Taoiseach has the power to make that happen. Jobs and services are on the line."
A spokesman for the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said there had been "extensive engagement with the sector about her department's plans to procure quality employment services in an open and competitive procurement manner, which is in accordance with the department's legal obligations and the advice from the Attorney General's office".
“The Minister has met with representatives of all partnership companies last year and this year, where this issue has been raised. The department’s objective is to expand the provision of employment service capacity and to deliver high quality employment services that are designed to meet individual’s employment assistance and support requirements. “
“Departmental officials acting on the Minister’s behalf have had extensive engagement with the Irish Local Development Network and other stakeholders including employee representatives Siptu, concerning the Department’s plans for the procurement of quality employment services. These engagements are continuing.”
Labour Party spokesman on social protection Seán Sherlock said the strike on Monday " must be a wakeup call for the Minister to address the concerns of the proposed new tender for local employment services"
He urged the Minister “to meet with stakeholders to hear their concerns in advance of any tender being published”.