I propose to take Questions Nos. 1868 and 1877 together.
First, I wish to acknowledge the valuable and dedicated service that Community Employment (CE) sponsor organisations provide in running CE Schemes all over the country. CE supervisors, as employees of these organisations, are an integral part of that good work. We simply could not sustain a lot of our local community services without their work and it is, of course, a concern to me that the Supervisors felt compelled to take industrial action earlier this year.
As the Deputy is aware the industrial action relates to a claim by CE supervisors and assistant supervisors who have been seeking for a number of years, through their union representatives, the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme.
I would like to confirm that it was never intended that my Department would withdraw funding from any CE sponsor as a result of industrial action by CE supervisors. However, sponsors were asked to ensure that their application for funding for payroll costs for the period of industrial action reflected the withdrawal of labour, in accordance with industrial relations practice.
It is important to emphasise the fact that CE scheme supervisors are employees of private companies in the community and voluntary sector that receive public funding. They are not employees of my Department or public servants, and as such were not subject to pay reductions, pension contributions or the Pension-related Deduction (PRD) under the provisions of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) which only applied to public servants.
The State is not responsible for funding pension arrangements for employees of private companies, even where the companies in question are reliant on State funding. Pension arrangements are a matter to be agreed between employees and their employers. All employers, including CE sponsoring organisations, are legally obliged to offer access to at least one Standard Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA) under the Pension (Amendment) Act 2002. CE supervisors may qualify for the State Pension (Contributory) if they have accrued sufficient PRSI contributions. The State Pension (Contributory) is not means-tested.
The issue was examined by a Community Sector High Level Forum, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. A number of Departments including my own Department were represented on this group, as were the unions and Pobal.
A detailed scoping exercise was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) on the potential costs of providing Exchequer support for the establishment of such a pension scheme for employees across the Community and Voluntary sector in Ireland. This exercise estimated a potential cost to the State of between €188 million per annum and €347m depending on the numbers involved, which is hard to establish. This excludes any provision for immediate ex-gratia lump sum payment of pension as sought, which could entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million.
Notwithstanding the above, I am currently engaging with representatives of CE supervisors to discuss issues arising following the 2008 Labour Court Recommendation (LCR 19293). All parties to the engagement process have agreed that the detail of the discussions should remain confidential while the engagement is ongoing and I would ask Deputies to respect these wishes and allow the talks to continue free from speculation which might prove unhelpful. I expect that it will take a number of weeks to reach a conclusion.
I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.