Private Members' Business. - Social Welfare (Amendment) Bill, 1984: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I had been saying that the duty and responsibility rest on any elected Government to endeavour to provide for citizens profitable, full-time work. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister how it will transpire that, under the provisions of this Bill, we shall create 10,000 part-time jobs, a most useful exercise. It appears we are prepared to spend money on the provision of those 10,000 part-time jobs while at the same time putting at risk the jobs of those at present in full-time, permanent employment. It is correct to say that, because of cutbacks that have been implemented, some thousands of our people have lost their jobs, not only in the private sector, in industry, but in secure, Government or semi-State employment. Therefore I fail to see the wisdom of placing full-time, permanent jobs at risk, dispensing with the services of people in such positions, through the creation of a fund for the purpose of introducing part-time employment for those people, through the manpower services, people at present registered with labour exchanges and in receipt of long-term unemployment benefit or assistance.

I have been sadly disappointed, indeed disillusioned, that after over 60 years of native Government, a serious effort is not being made to provide our people with a reasonable standard of living through the maintenance of full-time employment. I do not accept that our youth should be educated for emigration. The young people who are emigrating are better educated than those who left the country some years ago. Parents have worked hard and spent thousands of pounds on the education of such young people. According to statistics 100 people are emigrating daily. With emigration reaching 700 per week does the Minister expect the legislation before us to do anything to create more employment? I would not be optimistic about that.

I support and applaud any effort by the Minister to provide employment, particularly for those who are on the unemployment register and do not wish to be on it.

I am slow to interrupt the Deputy but I must point out that this is a limited debate about social welfare for those who are unemployed rather than, strange as it may appear, creating jobs. The question of the creation of jobs is a matter for another Minister.

I agree with the Chair but I view the Bill as an effort to give those who are unemployed £70 for two-and-a-half days work rather than having them drawing unemployment benefit for not doing any work. It is my understanding that those people can earn as much money as they wish for the remainder of the week.

If the Deputy keeps to that line he will be in order.

I hope it is not taken that £70 per week is sufficient remuneration for any man, married or single. If work cannot be provided now, I wonder where the work will be created for these proposals. I am anxious to know what the position will be for a married man with a large family who is in receipt of unemployment assistance and who works for two-and-a-half days for £70 but whose unemployment benefits will be in excess of that figure. Will he be paid the difference? I do not want any unemployed people to be worse off as a result of working two-and-a-half days. It is vitally important that people should work and I do not think any person wants to line up outside a labour exchange seeking what can only be described as money which lowers his dignity as a citizen. Nobody is anxious to be drawing unemployment benefit. I do not accept the argument that there are people who will not work. There is a great degree of self pride left in our people. They like to be independent, fully developed and associated with some form of creative activity. I do not believe, as has been said thousands of times, that there are people who would not work if it was available for them. People will work if the jobs are there and a good standard of living is guaranteed to the worker and his family at the end of the week. Workers do not aspire to being rich or wealthy but they expect to be better off on Friday night when work finishes than they were when they started on Monday morning. If under the Bill attractive employment is created I have no doubt a section of our people will be grateful to the Minister.

The provisions in the Bill merely scratch the surface. They are an attempt to assist those who are anxious to get off the unemployment register but we need to know more about it. I presume there will be a debate in the House when the Minister for Labour outlines the schemes; the variety of work and whether work will be available for plasterers, bricklayers, carpenters, roofers, plumbers, slaters and a variety of other tradesmen. If the move is to let the unemployment position limp from month to month for one year it may bring some relief to those anxious to be employed. To be unemployed must be one of the greatest disasters to befall any individual, especially an energetic and enthusiastic person who wishes to be engaged in some creative activity.

I wish the proposals in the Bill every success. Let this not be the last word in relation to the provisions of useful and effective schemes which will be an asset to everyone in the towns, cities and country. There are a variety of schemes crying out for attention. I hope what the Minister has in mind will reach a very satisfactory outcome. I cannot see this making any great impact, but I welcome it even if it only provides Members of this House with an opportunity to deal with the problems of those in receipt of social welfare benefits who are very anxious to be relieved of the responsibility of having to queue up each week for their benefits.

In my view the Minister should have given more notice about the abolition of the wet-time scheme because 40,000 building workers are likely to be affected. I agree with the Minister that circumstances today are completely different from what they were when the scheme was introduced. I hope the abolition of this scheme will focus attention on the building industry. In my opinion there is no greater source of employment than a thriving building industry. I want to pay a tribute to the 40,000 dedicated workers who have given a great service to the building and construction industry. They have worked in all kinds of weather. I hope the Minister, in consultation with his colleagues, the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Labour, will not let this be the last occasion when serious thought will be given to the problems facing the building and construction workers. Although these 40,000 workers will be losing benefits under the wet-time scheme from next month, they will expect an input into the building industry so that they will not have to worry about wet-time because they will be guaranteed security of employment by a thriving building industry. It is very necessary for this country that the building industry be a thriving one.

This is a very short Bill which must be welcomed. I hope it will lead to a reduction in the number of registered unemployed, but other moves must be made in co-operation with the Manpower service, the Department of Labour and all the training organisations to provide jobs for our young people as well as for our not so young. However, we still have a long way to go.

When the time comes we will be judged by the electorate on our record. There is nothing more important than providing jobs. As I said on many occasions, if we have our priorities right our first priority should be the provision of employment. I wish the Minister luck with this Bill. We will have another opportunity to have a further debate when the Minister for Labour introduces his Bill. Any step which takes people off the dole is welcome, but I do not want my constituents to approach me or the other Deputies representing our area telling us that they were better off before the Bill was passed. We must avoid that. I hope the Department of Social Welfare will ensure that no person who is registered unemployed will receive less for working than he is drawing at the moment.

This Bill is a step in the right direction; but it is not steps we need to deal with problems of this kind but a race. We have a responsibility to provide employment for a very large number of fine honourable boys and girls who unfortunately are unemployed at present. We must accept responsibility for providing employment. There would not be so many on the dole queues if private enterprise was encouraged to create more jobs thus taking people off the labour exchanges. Only tax reliefs will help create employment.

I will be calling the Minister at 9.15 p.m.

I welcome any legislation which will help to reduce the numbers on the unemployed list. I particularly welcome any legislation which will help young people, but I regret that time was not allowed today for the Minister for Labour to speak. The Minister said that the Minister for Labour would be giving an outline of the scheme in this House tomorrow. It is a great pity some arrangement was not made to facilitate the Minister for Labour to make this information available to the House today.

I welcome any legislation which will help to reduce the numbers of unemployed especially when there are 225,000 people on the unemployment register. Under this new scheme, persons who have been unemployed for at least a year and drawing unemployment assistance will be offered work for two and a half days per week. Who is going to make employment available for these people? I am aware that the Department of the Environment scheme may be discontinued or replaced.

We are also told that the work will be of a community nature and non-profit making. If we are ever going to solve unemployment and the economic and financial problems we must create and provide productive employment on a short or long term basis. This work will be available for 52 weeks of the year and the wages of £70 per week will be subject to income tax. It will be for two-and-a half days per week and it will be open to people to find employment for the remainder of the week but we all know — and I am sure the Minister will accept it — that there is no incentive for young people to work because of the income tax they have to pay. It is unfortunate that this Bill specifically mentions income tax.

I hope the Minister for Labour will encourage young people to accept this kind of scheme. There are criticisms daily of the income tax system and there is no incentive to work. It is a pity that the details of this scheme were not mentioned in the House so that the Members who spoke in the debate would have been in a position to speak far more knowledgeably on the subject.

I wish to thank Deputies for their contributions to the Bill. I propose to reply in the order in which the sections of the Bill are laid out, namely, the social employment scheme and the abolition of the wet time-scheme. The social employment scheme is being operated by the Minister for Labour and Deputies will have an opportunity of discussing the details on the Supplementary Estimate debate for the Department of Labour. The Minister for Labour will speak in detail on Friday in regard to the Bill. He is unable to contribute to the debate today as he is in Brussels and will also be there tomorrow.

The provisions of this Bill solely relate to facilitating the introduction of the scheme whereas the details will, of course, be a matter for the Minister for Labour. Generally speaking, applications for participation in the scheme will be accepted for the employment of long term unemployed on projects which respond clearly to identified community needs. They could range from environmental projects to those in the arts and cultural areas. The projects must have a non-profit orientation and must not be in substitution for existing employment or bring about a reduction in the hours of work of existing employees. I concede that it is not easy to meet these criteria. The introduction of this scheme involved considerable soul-searching and administrative analysis, particularly in the Department of Social Welfare, the Department of Finance and the Department of Labour. However, the scheme was eventually agreed by the Government and will be operated.

Deputy McCreevy and Deputy De Rossa said that the scheme merely represented a transfer of money from the Department of Social Welfare to another Department but that is not correct. The gross cost of the scheme next year is estimated at around £29.5 million. The savings arising from the Vote for Social Welfare as a result of this scheme are estimated at £11.5 million. Admittedly, these are subjective estimates as they must be in terms of employment provided by the scheme. Nevertheless, the basis of our approach is that the scheme will involve a net additional expenditure of £18 million in 1985. That provision has been incorporated into the general Estimates of our Department. We will be monitoring its progress, I will give it every support and encouragement and, like all new schemes, there is a degree of unpredictability about the take-up and the overall effectiveness. If we were to do nothing, we would equally be subjected to considerable criticism.

An essential feature of the scheme is that it is designed to give people who are now unemployed some opportunity to get employment and come back into the conventional habit of work. I agree that it must be utterly demoralising for the many who are long term unemployed and any measure which holds out hope and which is reasonably cost effective is worthwhile and merits the support of Deputies.

Deputy McCarthy implied that there was a connection between the introduction of the social employment scheme and the abolition of the special projects for the employment of young persons operated by the Department of the Environment and funded by the youth levy. Again, that is not true. The Government decided in November 1983 to discontinue the special projects for two main reasons: there was considered to be a very low training in work experience element involved in the projects for young people, and labour costwise it was very expensive.

Deputy McCreevy and Deputy Flanagan made the point that only single people would benefit from the scheme. This again is an over-simplification. If one examines the position, one will find that the married person who is currently receiving the maximum rate of long term unemployment assistance — namely, £56.45 per week will benefit to the tune of £14. In the case of a single person, the gain will be far higher, up to £26 extra when account is taken of PRSI and PAYE deductions. There is that element of incentive.

Deputy McCreevy referred to the many State agencies dealing with the unemployed — AnCO, social welfare exchanges and the National Manpower Service. He suggested one point of contact in each area or county for the unemployed. He can rest assured that he is talking about an issue which is very dear to my heart.

I did not know that the Minister had a heart.

I saw a slight step forward in that development when the Government recently appointed the chief executive of the YEA as chairman of AnCO in a fundamental effort to bring about some co-ordination and integration of the multiplicity of services for a population of 3.5 million. It is fantastic what a mess we have managed to get into in the delivery of the multiplicity of those services. The Deputy's suggestion will be considered in relation to the White Paper on Manpower Policy which is being prepared by the Minister for Labour. That Minister and I were the first two Ministers of any Government to share emphatically the view that there must be co-ordination, integration and unified delivery. That can and should be done as rapidly as possible. I would point out that there is at present a close liaison between the Departments and the National Manpower Agency in relation to the placement of the unemployed.

Regarding the wet-time scheme, Deputy McCarthy suggested a lack of consultation on the abolition of this scheme. There were inevitably time constraints. I do not deny that. There had been a whole series of reviews since 1978 when the review committee was set up. While the question whether the scheme should be continued in operation was not one of the matters to be examined by the then committee, nevertheless the question arose for consideration during the course of the review. It is true that at the annual conference of my union, the ITGWU, in 1981, there was a call for the abolition of the scheme. At a subsequent meeting with the then Minister for Social Welfare it was agreed that it was necessary to consult with other interests, namely, the unions and the employers. There has been much consultation. I have not found any great hostility to the Government's decision and, frankly, it is not reasonable to expect that the Government should continue to consult indefinitely and seek agreementad nauseam. In that context, there was no intention on my part in any way to refuse a consensus or to be discourteous to trade union or employer interests. I had to take a decision. The problem in this country is that nobody takes a decision. We go on the merry-go-round, consulting one another and, being the incestuous nation that we are in terms of sectional interest, eventually I had to write to the Construction Industry Federation and the Construction Industry Committee of Congress and inform them on 19 November of the Government's decision to wind up the scheme.

Deputy McCreevy wanted to know the reason why the fund was running down. The income over the last two or three years has shown a significant decline while the claims have remained fairly steady. This is due, to a great extent, to the fact that there was no time limit on claiming recoupment of benefit. A large proportion of claims related to stoppages which had occurred 12 months previously. I am glad to say that the officials in the Department of Social Welfare need no longer be weather watchers, nor will they be perennially checking in exchanges as to whether raincoats were worn on a given day. That onerous responsibility will be removed from them. The amount at present in the fund would not be sufficient to pay claims beyond the end of this year.

Deputy De Rossa asked whether participation in the social employment scheme would displace people being made redundant or being put on lay off by local authorities. An undertaking has been given to the ICTU that no such displacements will be made as a result of this scheme and the necessary measures will be taken in implementing the scheme to ensure that will not happen. Deputy De Rossa also raised the question whether a person on unemployment assistance at a rate in excess of £70 a week would be penalised if he refused to take up employment under the scheme. Essentially, the scheme is intended to be a voluntary one. There is no intention of penalising persons in the manner suggested. The Deputy also suggested that there is basically a Victorian or workhouse mentality behind the scheme. Simply, many who become unemployed are unable to re-enter employment, no matter how hard they search for work or how diligently they go about it. It is proposed under the scheme to offer such persons a basic, and admittedly limited, alternative in lieu of total non-involvement in the work ethos. There will be some enhanced payments instead of unemployment assistance for doing work of benefit to the community. The overall benefit of the scheme, while admittedly limited, will mean that a person on work of a temporary nature can move on to full time employment of a more permanent nature. Secondly, there will be a production of socially useful goods and services and, with an increase in skills and better qualified people coming into the labour force, the prospects for the hard core of long term unemployed being able to compete successfully for any available employment opportunities will be enhanced generally. The proposals in this Bill are valuable and I am pleased to introduce them. I thank Deputies for making up their minds urgently as to where they stood in relation to the Bill. I thank the House for the tolerance it showed for going through the Second Stage of the Bill today and hopefully taking Committee Stage tomorrow when the Bill was only published on Monday. I am obliged to attend a meeting of Social Affairs Ministers in Brussels tomorrow. I will not be here but Deputy Pattison will take the Bill through Committee Stage and hopefully he will pilot it through remaining Stages. I thank the House for its co-operation in this matter and I hope I have not unduly imposed on Deputies.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 13 December 1984.