Written Answers. - Employment Measures.
Minister for Enterprise and Employment
his views on the possible abuse of the new Jobstart recruitment subsidy scheme by employers; the measures, if any, being taken to ensure it is not used by unscrupulous employers to create a low-pay environment, as suggested in the report of the National Economic and Social Forum on long-term unemployment initiatives.
Minister for Enterprise and Employment
his views on the need for more durable employment measures as outlined in the recently published report of the National Economic and Social Forum.
I propose to take Question Nos. 24 and 30 together.
I welcome the National Economic and Social Forums Opinion No. 3 on Long-Term Unemployment Initiatives, as a further input to ongoing policy development in relation to dealing with the problem of long-term unemployment.
I note that the forum welcomes the Government's recent decisions as a step in the right direction to tackling long-term unemployment more effectively and on a more coherent and integrated basis. These decisions, according to the NESF, represent important progress and advances in a number of areas such as the more focused and targeted approach to ensuring that the long-term unemployed get the maximum benefit from the community employment programme; the retention of medical cards for three years after taking up employment by those who have been unemployed for at least one year; and the modifications and improvements announced in the family income supplement, in the assessment of earnings from employment for unemployment assistance purposes, the increased number of places on the back-to-work allowance scheme and the retention of the full rate child dependant allowances for the first 13 weeks of employment by the long-term unemployed.
Specifically, with regard to community employment, the forum supports the changes which came into effect on 15 April last. Many of the further recommendations will be incorporated into community employment as it evolves.
The forum has again raised the issue of the "going weekly remuneration" for CE participants. The Task Force on Long-Term Unemployment examined this issue in detail and recommended continuing the "benefits plus" arrangements for CE pending a full evaluation of the "going rate" approach being piloted in the CORI part-time job opportunities programme. It is worth noting that the task force found that the effective rate for CE participants compares favourably with rates for similar part-time employment in the open labour market and often exceeds it in the case of persons with dependants.
The forum has expressed a strong view that the new provision, which allows eligible participants for community employment to swap places with their dependent spouses, should not be proceeded with. Instead they suggest that dependent spouses should be eligible in their own right. While I see some merit in this recommendation, it would have significant cost implications, as acknowledged by the forum itself, and would result in the cutback of places for other groups. Accordingly, I intend to retain the "swapping arrangement" and to continue the Government's policy of targeting resources on those registered as long-term unemployed. I will however keep the matter under review in the light of the implementation of the revised targeting arrangements.
With regard to the new Jobstart recruitment subsidy programme, I welcome the forum's comments. The programme will be heavily promoted by FÁS and the local employment service in co-operation with IBEC, ICTU and the INOU. The detailed terms of the programme have been agreed with IBEC, ICTU and the INOU and agreed monitoring procedures have been put in place to ensure that any abuses that may arise will be quickly dealt with. The programme will come into operation on 1 June 1996.
The forum raises concerns about the perceived compulsory element in the youth progression programme which will come into effect in October. While I understand this concern, my aim is that this programme, rather than being punitive, will enable us to develop a proper register of those 18-19 year olds most likely to drift into a lifetime of long-term unemployment and to ensure an appropriate policy response to prevent such drifts.
I have dealt at length in this House with the state of play in relation to the establishment of the local employment service. I am satisfied that every effort is being made to have the service fully up and running in the 14 areas designated by the middle of this year. I am pleased that the forum accepts the Government view that the service should be fully established and properly evaluated in these areas before extending nationwide. The further recommendations from the forum are a useful input to the development of the service.