I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I wish to raise recent developments in the jobs initiative scheme. The Minister of State will remember the debate in this House on the community employment, social economy and jobs initiative schemes, when people who had expected that the situation would not change were left in the lurch by the decision to make cutbacks last year. The matter embarrassed the Government and a commitment was then given that there would be no cutbacks in 2004. I will read a letter from the Office of the Taoiseach, dated 14 December, to Mr. Jack O'Connor, the general president of SIPTU, on the matter. It states:
Thank you for your recent letter regarding the Job Initiative (JI) programme.
As you will be aware, the Government has decided, in the context of the 2004 Estimates, that there will be no further reduction in the number of places to be supported under FÁS employment schemes next year.
The FÁS employment schemes mentioned are the community employment, jobs initiative and social economy schemes. People welcomed that announcement because it was made to the general president of SIPTU at the end of December.
A number of people working with the Employment Network, TEN, in the inner city, however, have now received a letter, sent on 9 February, that states:
I am writing in relation to your Jobs Initiative contract with TEN that finished on the 31 December 2001. TEN has just received confirmation that, subject to FÁS funding, your contract has been extended to 2 April 2004. I am sorry but I am unable to give you any further information at this time. However, please do not hesitate to contact me.
That letter contradicts the belief that there would be no cutbacks this year and that the jobs that were originally targeted to finish at the end of December had been saved. Now it appears that six-weeks notice is being given to people on the jobs initiative. This has been done in a surreptitious fashion. The impression was given that the jobs were secure but then people received this extraordinary letter dated 9 February 2004 stating that the job finished on 31 December 2003 and that confirmation had just been received that the contract has been extended until 2 April 2004.
This is a muddled and messy way to do business. These are people who were long-term unemployed and who have done substantial work in the community. Across the country there are 2,200 people on this scheme who had been given to believe, arising from the letter to the general president of SIPTU, that was widely circulated, that those who were on the existing programmes were secure, certainly 2004. The letter from the Taoiseach states, "As you will be aware, the Government has decided in the context of the 2004 Estimates that there will be no further reduction in the number of places to be supported under FÁS employment schemes next year." Is that a lie? What is the situation? It seems to those who are being told they are not wanted any longer that something very strange has happened to their employment.