Thursday, 24 October 2019

Questions (8)

Ruth Coppinger


8. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Rural and Community Development if he will increase funding of community centres to ensure workers receive a wage higher than the national minimum wage (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43809/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Rural)

I wonder if the Minister can help so that people doing vital work in community centres can be brought above the poverty line, where many of them now live. There is a terrible anomaly between workers getting the national minimum wage and those on community employment, CE, or Tús schemes.

Ironically, people on the schemes can end up having more income because they are also entitled to other allowances, while directly employed workers are not. The managements of the centres have limited resources and cannot necessarily afford to fund pay rises, which is a terrible anomaly. Obviously, there was no increase in the national minimum wage in the budget. An increase was deferred for reasons that have not been fully made clear.

I thank the Deputy for the question. I presume she is referring to the community services programme which supports more than 400 community organisations in providing local services through a social enterprise model. CSP funding is provided as a fixed annual contribution towards the cost of an agreed number of full-time equivalent positions, including a manager, where warranted. A total of €32,000 per annum is provided towards the cost of the manager position, while €19,033 per annum is provided towards the cost of each full-time equivalent position. The CSP contribution is not aligned with the national minimum wage and does not meet the full salary cost of supported posts. It is a fixed annual contribution that must be co-funded by the organisations concerned from other sources, for example, income generated from the use of facilities and services provided. Supported organisations are obliged under the CSP to pay employees at least the national minimum wage.

Indecon Consultants is carrying out an independent review of the CSP programme on behalf of my Department and the review is nearing completion. It will examine, among other things, the programme's qualifying criteria and income generation requirements. It will help to inform decisions on the future shape and structure of the programme. In the meantime, the Department has provided over €1 million in additional support this year under the CSP support fund to help to address the financial challenges faced by many of the smaller CSP-supported organisations that struggle to pay employees the national minimum wage. The additional contribution paid under the fund was increased from €350 per full-time equivalent in 2018 to €1,100 in 2019.

As I do not have a copy of the written reply, I cannot interrogate all of the detail. I want to make this simple. I was approached by several workers in my local community centre. They work for €9.80 per hour. They are employed directly by a council-run community centre. They approached the council and the management committee to seek a pay rise to bring them into line with workers they were working alongside who might work 25 hours and receive €11.70 per hour. When the fuel allowance kicks in, of which we are all in favour, these workers actually receive the equivalent of €12.70 per hour. We have an unreal situation where people who are employed directly are receiving €2 or €3 less per hour than others with whom they are working who work fewer hours. This cannot continue. People cannot actually survive on the national minimum wage, especially given the cost of rent and the cost of living. The carbon tax has just been imposed and so on. One in every four workers is low paid. Now we have a situation in community centres where there is a need for pay parity. It is the same demand as that being made in the public sector.

I hear what the Deputy is saying. We do not want to have anyone living in poverty. I repeat that the CSP fund was extended in 2019 to provide additional funding for organisations which were finding it difficult to meet national minimum wage obligations. The CSP fund is totally different from the community employment programme which is a labour activation programme which has been designed to help people who are long-term unemployed to get back to work. The other important point is that under the CSP a contribution is made towards the cost of employing a person which must be co-funded by the organisation concerned. Those of us in the Department are delighted to say we have allocated a further €700,000 for the CSP fund in 2020, bringing the total allocation to €46.89 million. This means that we can bring more new entrants into the programme in 2020. The increase of €700,000 will allow for the approval of approximately 36 new full-time equivalent positions. It is important to reiterate that it is a contribution towards the cost of employment. It has not been designed to meet the full cost.

The way around the problem is to increase the funding provided for community centres specifically to increase the wages of the workers they employ. It should be ring-fenced for that purpose. I know that in reply the Minister of State will argue that the Department does not have the money to do so, but that is simply not tenable. We have the highest number of high net worth individuals - the super rich - that we have ever had in this country. We are also meant to be in recovery. We have seen a major increase in wealth in recent years.

I walked into a community centre in my area the day after the budget was announced and the manager immediately said to me all of the people there were worse off on that day than they had been the previous day. Their wages had not been increased since the national minimum wage had not been increased, but obviously other things were increased in the budget. How can the Government stand over this? We have a problem and I am not for one moment suggesting a downgrading of the salaries of the temporary workers employed. We can imagine how a person feels when he or she is employed directly when others can come in and work fewer hours and be paid more. The Government cannot stand over this. The only way around the problem is to ensure community centres have sufficient funds and increase the national minimum wage to make it a real living wage, an issue on which we had a debate earlier this week. We proposed that the national minimum wage be €15 per hour, a rate that applies in a number of US states. It also applies in other countries.

I hear what the Deputy is saying, as does the Minister, Deputy Ring. I reiterate that Indecon Consultants is carrying out an independent review of the CSP programme on behalf of the Department. The review will examine, among other things, the programme's qualifying criteria and the income generation requirements that are necessary. It will help to inform decisions on how funding will be provided in the future. It is important to note that the review will be completed shortly. The timeline has been extended to facilitate regional consultation to ensure local input. We discussed this issue earlier. We intend to look at case studies and the extensive consultation with key stakeholders, including management and staff in CSP-supported organisations. If there is a particular case the Deputy has in mind, she should forward the details to the Department. We can get Indecon to examine it.