Thursday, 30 June 2016

Ceisteanna (11, 14, 37, 46)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

11. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if he has consulted with any organisations in regard to the creation of a new labour activation measure to replace JobBridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18796/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

14. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Social Protection if any new labour activation measure which he plans to introduce to replace JobBridge will pay participants at least the minimum wage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18795/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jim Daly

Ceist:

37. Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection his plans, if any, to discontinue the JobBridge scheme; if so, his further plans to put in place a replacement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18704/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mick Barry

Ceist:

46. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Social Protection when he plans to publish details of the new labour activation scheme which will replace JobBridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18793/16]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Social)

A piece of advice for the Government with regard to the previous matter is that if the proposal has nothing to do with the scheme in Britain, perhaps it should not call it the exact same name as the scheme in Britain. People cannot be blamed for thinking they are same.

That may well be good advice but there are more places than Britain and this exists in European countries too.

Considering that, for example, the JobBridge scheme, which we are going to talk about now, came from Britain and that the welfare model, in general, which the previous Government pursued was borrowed from Britain, it is not a significant stretch of the imagination to make that connection.

Questions Nos. 11 and 14 relate to the issue of JobBridge. We welcome the fact that JobBridge is being discontinued as we have been campaigning on that issue for a long time. The Minister's predecessor was a big fan and advocate of JobBridge. My question, effectively, is what is going to replace JobBridge? Will another exploitative scheme, based on people working for free or very little money, be brought into existence? With whom will the Minister consult? Will participants be paid at least the minimum wage?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 14, 37 and 46 together.

As the Members of the House will be aware, I have already announced that I plan to replace JobBridge with a more targeted scheme later this year. I believe economic and labour market conditions have changed considerably for the better since the scheme was introduced in 2011 and that the time is now right for a much more targeted scheme.

JobBridge has been very successful in meeting its objectives over the past five years. It helped about 19,000 mainly small employers to provide valuable work experience to nearly 48,000 unemployed jobseekers. An independent evaluation of JobBridge published in 2013 found that overall satisfaction levels with the scheme were very high. That was the view of the participants. Two thirds of participants would recommend the scheme to a friend or family member, and levels of abuse of the scheme by employers were comparatively low. Most notably, the evaluation found that 61% of participants progressed into paid employment within a short period of time without completing their internship. As the Deputy will know, that compares most favourably with community employment, CE, and other schemes. This is a very high progression rate and suggests that JobBridge has been instrumental in helping about 30,000 jobseekers to secure employment.

I have asked the Labour Market Council to assist the Department in designing the new scheme. The Labour Market Council includes representatives from the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, INOU, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, IBEC and a number of leading labour market economists.

It is also important that the design of a new scheme be informed by the best evidence possible. It is for this reason that I intend to await the results of a second large-scale evaluation of JobBridge currently under way before finalising the design of any replacement scheme. The results of this evaluation, which is again being undertaken by Indecon, are expected in September and in September I will announce my proposals for a new scheme.

I strongly dispute the notion that a high progression rate from JobBridge into work was proven. There was no causative link proven because there was not a controlled group in, for example, the Indecon study. For example, approximately 29% of people progressed into the employment of the host organisation but 29% of employers also said that if JobBridge did not exist, they would have been highly or fairly likely to take somebody on. What it indicated, therefore, was that there was a substitution going on, a replacement of work for free labour.

There is a problem in terms of the Labour Market Council being the body that consults on this. It is a bit like having the former Senator, Joe O'Toole, oversee water charges when he is clearly in favour of water charges. The chair of the council is Martin Murphy, who is the head of Hewlett Packard in Ireland. It was one of the biggest users of JobBridge. It was also one of the promoters of JobBridge under the previous Government along with Deputy Joan Burton when she was Tánaiste. Is it not a problem to have that chairman with respect to that company involved? The former chairman of Tesco was chairman at the time when there was a huge scandal about taking on JobBridge people for Christmas work. How can the people concerned be neutral in that regard?

If the Deputy were organising a consultation, he would only consult with people he knows will agree with him. There is a wide range of people on the Labour Market Council including, for example, Breda O'Brien from the INOU, and people from ICTU. If someone is serious about a consultation, he or she does not just consult the people whom he or she believes are ideologically aligned with him or her. He or she consults a broad spectrum of people and that is what the Labour Market Council actually does.

Tell that to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney.

It is important to remember where JobBridge came from. It arose at a time when people with good qualifications could not get employment and employers could not afford to take people on. We are now in a different space. Employers can afford to take people on, and they should. They certainly should not rely on the State to meet their labour costs. It also arose at a time when there was an outcry from people who wanted to take up internships or work experience but in doing so lost their jobseeker's allowance. That is the reason it was brought in. People are very quick to forget that. It was to ensure that people could get work experience and could take up internships without losing their payments.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest those who took part in JobBridge were not satisfied. They may have felt they had no alternative or that it was a better option than sitting at home unemployed. According to the National Youth Council of Ireland, only 45% would recommend it to a friend, and 44% said the company used the scheme solely for free labour.

The bottom line is that any scheme which does not involve a qualification as opposed to the chance to include in one's CV that one worked for free and which does not involve payment of at least the minimum wage will not be acceptable to people because it is about the exploitation of the unemployed and the broader reshaping of the labour market to normalise people working for free and the driving down of wages and conditions. The Government will find it extremely hard to bring back in some model of JobBridge, no matter how it tries to paint it. What we need is investment in the creation of jobs, education and apprenticeships.

Participation inJobBridge was always voluntary for the person taking part and the employer.

Not with the penalties. People lost their dole over it.

Something that pays the minimum wage is a job, not a scheme. There is a difference between schemes and jobs. I do not necessarily agree with the Deputy that every scheme has to have a qualification at the end of it, although I do not rule that out. However, there is a value in gaining work experience. I am not sure if the Deputy has ever participated in an unpaid internship, but there is a genuine value in it. In my past I participated in an unpaid internship here and the US Congress and it was of real value. There is value in gaining work experience that does not necessarily have a qualification at the end of it. I agree with the Deputy that the most important aspect is investment and job creation. I am delighted to see that there are so many new jobs in the economy, with more being created all the time. I watched the Deputy when he was an MEP make a very interesting speech on Venezuela and how much he admired the model used there and noted the extent to which he defended it. He is probably aware that the country which has performed most poorly in job creation in the past year or so is Venezuela, the model he was so keen to defend not too long ago. Even he gets it wrong sometimes.

That is one up for North Korea.