Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 30 Mar 2010

Vol. 201 No. 13

Job Losses.

Like others, I wish the Minister of State well in her new position. She has been tasked with high responsibility. Many people are depending on the decisions made by her and the Government.

The Government made a decision on the European globalisation funds. I understand that three applications have been made to the fund, which is run by the European Union and which makes available €500 million per annum for member states for assistance in retraining and upskilling redundant workers. The three applications made by Ireland are for SR Technics, Dell and Waterford Crystal. I am interested in Waterford Crystal and other Waterford companies. Last week, I and my colleague, Seán Kelly, MEP for the South constituency, met more than 100 former Waterford Crystal workers. We invited officials from the European globalisation section of the European Union Commission and we were happy that they attended in Waterford to hear first-hand the concerns of the workers. It was very clear from the meeting that there is much confusion about the Waterford Crystal application; the entire European globalisation fund application process; and how the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Government have handled it.

It has come to our attention that the redundant workers involved have not been consulted by the agency or the Department and that the agencies responsible for implementing the funds when they arrive, namely, the VECs, the county and city enterprise boards and Waterford Institute of Technology have not yet been consulted by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on how it is proposed to assist the redundant workers. It is expected the funds will arrive for the Waterford Crystal application in the coming months. The European Union officials who attended were shocked to hear this because the clock is ticking for this application and they felt much preparatory work should already be in place and consultation and communication should have happened.

I understand the main co-ordinator of the fund will be FÁS. FÁS was invited to the same meeting and it did not even give us the courtesy of an apology for not attending. I wonder why it did not attend. Is there a hidden agenda? Perhaps not, but it did not reflect well on it or onthe Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that FÁS did not attend the important meeting.

Several questions and concerns have been raised and I will refer to a simple example. While a website has been set up already for the Dell application in the Limerick region on which much information and co-ordination is available, no equivalent website exists for the Waterford workers. It appears as though little preparatory work has been done for the Waterford workers. It also has been brought to my attention that many workers who have been made redundant have not been included in the application made by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the State on behalf of the Waterford Crystal workers. Moreover, it was made clear by Commission officials that those who were made redundant from ancillary services that serviced Waterford Crystal would qualify for such assistance. However, I have been informed that many such ancillary services were not included in the application. It also has been brought to my attention that the Waterford application has not been published and is not yet in the public domain and the Minister of State should state the reason this is the case.

Another matter of concern is that the application was submitted to the European Union on the last day permissible. Normally, ten weeks are allowed after the main redundancies have been announced and the Waterford application appears to have been a rushed job which was submitted at the very last minute. It appears to have been incomplete in many ways and was amended subsequently. Consequently, many concerns exist regarding the management of the application, which is the responsibility of the State and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

I refer to the many other companies which have experienced large-scale redundancies that do not reach the required threshold of 500 under the EGF fund. European Union officials have made clear that such companies can combine with similar companies in their respective sectors anywhere in Ireland to submit a combined application. I will name four such companies, namely, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Waterford, which shortly will have more than 315 redundancies, ABB, Waterford, with more than 178 redundancies, Honeywell with 130 redundancies and Bausch & Lomb with 195 redundancies. There is nothing to prevent the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment combining these companies with others in their respective sectors to make an application to the EGF on their behalf. That has not been done and no message has come from the Government or the Department to say it will be done. In essence, the Government and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment are failing these redundant workers.

Moreover, there are hundreds of thousands in the construction sector who also could seek assistance under this fund. They need to know what is happening. The Government must communicate how it can assist such people and must communicate through the agencies who have heard nothing thus far. While the Minister of State will have to hand a prepared response, I appeal to her to take this up with the Cabinet because it is not good enough that although funds are available to the Irish people, because of inaction or whatever reason, the EGF is not being fully capitalised on by the State.

The Senator will be delighted to know that I have to hand a most detailed answer to his Adjournment matter. I hope I will have time to read through it for him. I wish to take this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has to date submitted three applications for co-financing assistance from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, EGF, in 2009 towards the cost of guidance, training, entrepreneurship and education programmes for redundant workers at the Dell computer manufacturing plant in Raheen, County Limerick, the Waterford Crystal plant in Kilbarry, County Waterford, and the SR Technics aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Dublin Airport. While there have been significant numbers of redundancies nationally since the commencement of the global economic and financial crisis, strict eligibility criteria apply for a member state to submit an application for EGF assistance with a legitimate expectation of success.

EGF support is only considered in the following scenarios. The first is where major structural changes in world trade patterns have led to a serious economic disruption, such as a substantial increase in imports into the EU for a given sector, a rapid decline of EU market share in a given sector and delocalisation to third, that is, non-EU, countries. The second scenario is where redundancies can be directly attributed to the current global economic and financial crisis period. This provision only applies to the period up to the end of 2011. Generally there must have been at least 500 redundancies over a period of four months in the case of a single enterprise and its suppliers or downstream producers or at least 500 redundancies, particularly in small to medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, over a period of nine months in the case of a NACE 2 economic sector. The EU member state then has ten weeks within which to establish whether the threshold has been reached, collate the data required and submit a comprehensive application, including a rationale for EGF support. Robust data demonstrating contractual links between main enterprise and supplier and evidence of redundancy notifications of all workers concerned must be provided by any member state applying for EGF funds. It has been the experience of member states, including Ireland, that this is quite an onerous task that has considerable human resource and logistical implications.

In this context, on 19 June 2009 the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment submitted an application for co-funded assistance from the EGF towards the costs of a personalised package of occupational guidance, training, employment, entrepreneurship and educational measures for workers made redundant at the Dell plant in Raheen, County Limerick, and at ancillary enterprises. The application encompasses almost 3,000 persons. The application regarding the Dell redundancies was approved late last year by the EU budgetary authorities and a funds transfer of €14.8 million was received earlier this month, almost nine months since the submission of the original application. The Government is providing a matching element of €8 million in funding in respect of this application. The top quality and efficient delivery of services is of paramount importance. It is imperative that the various measures being provided are co-ordinated in the most effective and efficient manner to meet the needs of the affected workers in Limerick and the mid-west. To that end, FÁS has established a dedicated EGF co-ordination unit in Limerick to ensure all relevant supports across all service providers, namely, FÁS, Enterprise Ireland, county enterprise boards, vocational education committees, and third level and other institutions and colleges, are co-ordinated locally in a timely, effective and efficient manner. The EGF co-ordination unit acts as the primary co-ordination agency for the Department in the implementation of the EGF programme for Dell worker related supports. All other intermediate bodies and public beneficiaries liaise and report on measures to the FÁS EGF co-ordination unit as required.

Details of guidance, training, educational and entrepreneurial measures available with the assistance of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund for those workers made redundant at the Dell plant in County Limerick and at ancillary enterprises since January 2009 were provided at the public information event hosted at the South Court Hotel, Limerick, on 11 and 12 February 2010 by the FÁS EGF co-ordination unit. FÁS alone received almost 600 expressions of interest in its training courses with 250 expressions in VEC-run courses. To date, FÁS has provided guidance to approximately 1,900 former Dell workers. The State training agency has provided approximately 300 training courses, with double that number to be provided in 2010. FÁS also is expanding its grant aid stream to ensure the provision of courses in private colleges where appropriate. Work also is progressing on the development of community employment and job internship schemes which will cater for several hundred people. The city and county enterprise boards are processing more than 200 applications for assistance to start one's own business in the mid-west with the support of the EGF. In addition, hundreds of people are expected to take up tailored and accelerated further and third level education courses in the region, including at appropriately accredited private colleges.

A steering committee has been established, including representatives of the former workforce, to ensure the most effective and efficient services are provided under the EGF. This committee is to meet in Limerick in early April and will provide a useful forum for the exchange of information and ideas on the roll-out of appropriate EGF-funded measures. As the timeframe for implementing all measures being co-financed by the EGF is 24 months from the date of submission of the EGF application, it is important to maximise the support potential within this relatively short timeframe. In this context, the effectiveness of all EGF-funded supports will be reviewed by the Department in June 2010. All EGF related expenditure must be strictly monitored to ensure it can traced back to an eligible occupational guidance, training, employment, entrepreneurship or educational measure, that there is a clear audit trail linking the expenditure to a single identifiable eligible beneficiary, and that all relevant EU and national accounting and auditing procedures are met by the intermediate bodies and public beneficiaries.

As for the Waterford Crystal application, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment submitted a second EGF application to the European Commission on 7 August 2009 in respect of approximately 653 workers at Waterford Crystal and ancillary companies for a total amount of just under €4 million. The Waterford Crystal application is at the interservice consultation stage within the European Commission and will, upon approval, be considered by the College of Commissioners, the European Council and the European Parliament. To date, FÁS has provided for one to one career guidance interviews with almost 500 of the workers and delivered in excess of 430 training places. Educational measures such as a joint FÁS-Waterford Institute of Technology certificate in study skills and an RPL initiative are well under way.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment submitted an EGF application to the European Commission on 9 October 2009 in respect of 1,135 workers at the SR Technics plant at Dublin Airport for a total of just over €13.5 million. A request for further information was received from the Commission in mid-January owing to unforeseen circumstances arising after the submission of the application. This request is being addressed and officials are engaged with their Brussels counterparts to ensure outstanding issues are resolved. In the interim, the delivery of services has continued. To date, FÁS has delivered training courses to more than 660 workers and 58 full-time third level education places have been taken up by former SR Technics workers at IT Blanchardstown and Tallaght.

Does Senator Coffey have a question?

I have many questions, as the answer was bland and did not contain much information that we did not already have.

I will only allow one question.

I have questions for the Minister of State. It was made clear to us that the EGF money was to be additional to existing funds. I hope it will not be used by the Government as a slush fund to prop up a discredited agency, namely, FÁS. That is my fear and that of many workers. Thousands of redundant workers could qualify under the fund, but no application has been made on their behalf by the Department. Had the Minister and the Department even bothered to make an effort to put the applications together, many would have been successful. According to the Minister of State, preparing an application is an onerous task. Whoop de doo, if it is onerous. Many redundant workers would love to have difficult work to do. It is not fair to tell the House that the applications should not be made just because doing so would be difficult. I ask the Government to apply on behalf of the many thousands of workers who have been made redundant by the companies to which I referred, including Teva, ABB, Honeywell, Bausch and Lomb, but no effort is being made to do so. The Department and the Government seem to have adopted a laissez-faire attitude to the EGF.

Does the Senator have a question?

Will the Minister of State address this matter if she has genuine concerns? I am sure her constituency contains people who have been affected. For example, Braun is in the Carlow area; therefore, her constituency contains redundant workers who would qualify under the fund were the Department bothered to do the difficult work it has been so willing to explain in the House.

I am not sure what the Senator's question is, as opposed to expressing his concern about the overall procedures used.

Why is the Government not making applications to the EGF on behalf of the thousands of workers who have been made redundant at the many companies besides the three referred to by the Minister of State? She claimed that making an application was an onerous task, but I am not interested in that aspect.

I have addressed the Senator's point. As I stated in my reply and as he well knows, the process is slow. The reason for the slowness with the Waterford Crystal application could be rolled on to the other applications. The EGF application process is complicated and encompasses three arms of the budgetary authorities, namely, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The successful Dell application took six months to complete from submission to final decision and it took almost nine months before there was an actual funds transfer. Regarding the application in respect of Waterford Crystal, I am informed by the Commission that it is due in part to the change of Commissioner, of which the Senator is well aware, and a change in procedure. Henceforth, its assessment of all EGF applications and a proposal for a decision to mobilise the EGF in support of applications will form part of the same legislative procedure. To date, there have been two distinct procedures used. This change of approach within the Commission has taken some time to work through. There is no suggestion of a difficulty with the Waterford Crystal application. I hope that answers the Senator's question.

With due respect, redundant workers are not interested in the bureaucratic difficulties experienced by the State or the European Commission. It is the job of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to overcome the difficulties.

The Senator has made that point.

It should give the workers made redundant at other companies the same assistance it has given to workers made redundant at Dell, Waterford Crystal and SR Technics. I am referring to equality and fairness on the part of the State. The Minister of State did not answer my questions. The Government has many questions to answer on the matter.