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Employment Schemes

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 17 May 2022

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Questions (76)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

76. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will outline plans regarding redundancy provision for local employment service, LES, and job club staff who lose employment as a result of the ongoing tender process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24492/22]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Social)

What are the Minister's plans to provide for the staff in local employment services and job clubs who will, in some instances, lose their jobs in the weeks and months ahead? Will redundancy payments be provided?

My Department has been designing a new model of externally provided public employment services since 2019. This is required to comply with the legal obligation to ensure such services are procured through a competitive process. For almost three and half years, extensive consultation with existing providers and representative bodies, including the Irish Local Development Network and trade unions, has taken place. My Department has worked to ensure that existing providers are in a position to compete for the provision of these new employment services. This involved a two-phase approach. The first phase involved running a limited competition in four geographic areas that did not already have local employment services. Then, using the lessons learned from this process, we fine-tuned the request for tenders in phase 2. Having taken on board the lessons learned, phase 2 includes an increase in the number of lots, greater emphasis on community linkages and, most important, a substantially increased minimum level of referrals for each lot. The increase in referrals means the annual income under the new model should exceed the existing cost base of all LES and job clubs operating in each lot. Therefore, any existing provider which successfully bids for a service should at least match and in some cases exceed its current income. The need for redundancies in such circumstance would clearly not be warranted.

The procurement for the new Intreo partners local area employment services will take time to conclude. My Department has therefore offered an extension of contracts to existing LES and job clubs until the end of August. To date, the vast majority of providers have accepted this offer. However, a very small number of providers have declined the offer, which is at their discretion, and they will communicate their decision and rationale to their staff. In circumstances where existing providers choose not to bid for these service or are unsuccessful I would expect that, as a first option, providers should look to redeploy any staff affected to other functions within their organisations.

However, where this is not possible, and if these employers are unable to finance redundancy payments, then my Department's redundancy and insolvency service will, in accordance with the governing legislation, be able to make provision for statutory redundancy payments.

Statutory redundancy will be made available, as it is to most workers, albeit it will be limited. I am speaking about redundancy beyond the statutory redundancy because some of these workers have given 20, and in some cases, 25 years of dedication. During that time they have educated themselves and retrained and they are highly skilled workers who deserve better. The tender has gone ahead and the second phase is well under way.

I refer to those four areas that were tendered in the first phase and which the Minister referenced. Can the Minister outline what number of staff we are looking at in those four areas and what number of staff will be retained? I acknowledge that in some cases the new provider will offer employment to the staff who are currently there but where they do not want to take up that employment will they impeded in redundancy and in access to the likes of the jobseeker's benefit and allowance?

I do not have the figures for the four areas in phase 1 to hand but there had been engagement and in some of the instances the staff involved took up employment with the new contract providers. We are in phase 2 and the procurement phase is ongoing, as the Deputy knows. I am not the employer, nor is my Department. I cannot come in and promise enhanced redundancy terms for anybody because that is not something that is in my gift and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform probably would not take too kindly to that either. My focus from the start has always been on the jobseeker. I want to help people get into work and give them the supports they need. There are more people working than ever before, the live register is at its lowest level in over a decade and unemployment is lower than it was pre-Covid, as we know.

I mention the roughly 388 people who work in local employment services and job clubs. When a new provider like Turas Nua or Seetec Ireland comes in, some of those workers who have given 20 to 25 years of work to not-for-profit and community-based employment services will not want to take up a role in an organisation that is run for-profit, that provides payment by results and that is not within the ethos of a community-based and not-for-profit body. The 40 jobs clubs across the State are more or less being wiped out. Some local employment services will be successful in the second phase of the tender but there will be a situation where a number of workers will not want to take up employment under the new private model. I ask the Minister to look at enhanced redundancy for those workers who have given years of service to their communities. They deserve to at least be considered for that.

We cannot jump the gun because there are no redundancies yet. We need to await the outcome of the procurement process. Some have said that the community and voluntary sector will be wiped out due to the procurement process but we should wait and see who wins it and, as I said, it is ongoing. All contracts are extended until the end of August, unless the companies have decided not to extend themselves. If they have decided that then they will need to explain that to their employees. My Department has a primary focus for this procurement process, with 80% of the marks awarded for the quality of the service offered and the local connections. Some 20% relates to cost but there is a minimum cost below which bids will be accepted. If new providers come in, there might be opportunities there because we are talking about highly skilled staff. We know the situation with the labour market and there are a lot of employers out there looking for staff. The process is still under way and I do not want to anticipate the outcome of that yet. Their contracts are extended until the end of August.

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