Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Ceisteanna (41, 45, 63, 68, 69, 71, 74)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

41. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to set out the status of a matter (details supplied) relating to community employment supervisors; if further discussions have taken place with unions on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50172/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

45. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to set out the status of her efforts to address issues affecting community employment supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50353/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Fiona O'Loughlin

Ceist:

63. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to set out the status of pensions for community employment supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50255/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

68. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection when she plans to address the status of community employment supervisors and provide for their payments as per the Labour Court recommendation of 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46862/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

James Browne

Ceist:

69. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline the position regarding the 2008 Labour Court recommendation regarding pensions for community employment scheme supervisors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50147/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Brady

Ceist:

71. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline the status of talks between her Department and representatives of community employment supervisors on their pension entitlements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50250/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

74. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline the status of talks with community employment supervisors; the way in which she plans to address the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50352/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (12 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Employment)

As the Minister will know, we have been in constant contact along with our colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe.

There are several questions in the group.

My apologies. The Minister will clarify that Questions Nos. 41, 45, 63, 68, 69, 71 and 74 are grouped.

I know the Minister has done a great deal of work on this. It is a long-standing issue and the Minister has done a good deal of work engaging with SIPTU, Fórsa and various unions regarding the community employment, CE, supervisors' pension claim. The Minister might give us an update on her engagement as far as she can.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41, 45, 63, 68, 69, 71 and 74 together. I know sometimes it annoys people when we take all these questions together but they are all obviously about the same topic. The questions show the extent of the concern and appreciation that we all have and share in the House for the CE scheme itself and in particular for CE supervisors. I thank Deputy Heydon for continually contacting my office to try to get an update.

As the line Minister, I have a real appreciation for the value of the work that our CE supervisors do. I visit CE supervisors and the participants in the schemes throughout the country several times every month. This is the real value of the contribution to our localities, communities and sports clubs and so on, which are great and we would not manage without them. The real value is that some people arrive to the CE scheme when they are somewhat removed from being active in the labour market or even the social economy in their own communities. They need genuine extra over-and-above support care and attention, monitoring, mentoring and coaching. They get that in spades from our CE supervisors. This is why I made it a priority. I made a commitment to the CE supervisors and the unions to try to address the issues that were arising and still outstanding from the Labour Court recommendations of 2008.

We started our consideration process at the beginning of the summer. It is ongoing. We agreed some parameters. They know what my outcomes look like, I know what their wants look like. The commitment I have given them is that I will not stop until we achieve those. Given that some of the recommendations have very large and tangible consequences, probably unintended from their perspective, it is not as easy a route as some people might think, hence the issue has been floating around since 2008. There have been successive Governments since 2008. We are in deliberations and there is a proposal on the table. That negotiation process is beginning in earnest with the financiers of the country.

The only commitment I will continue to give not only to the Deputies, and I thank them for their support, but to the people who carry out the activation service for the Department of Employment and Social Protection day in day out, is that this issue needs to be and will be resolved and I will not stop until it is.

The Minister deals with these cases in her constituency in Meath East as I do in Kildare. It does jar with the community employment, CE, supervisors when they are told that the voluntary sponsoring groups are their employers. I know they are seen that way technically under the law but everything they do daily involves dealing with the Department, for orders, approvals and other elements of the process. I understand the huge challenge of precedence this creates for us and in particular for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because if it is paid out it opens out to a wider cohort of people. Are there ways of getting around that precedence issue in the Minister’s deliberations and discussions? I understand that the Minister cannot say everything openly here about the negotiations with the unions but this is a challenge we need to take up.

The Minister for Finance has mentioned the high level forum. Does that body have a role in this process or what is its role currently? We all know the value of the voluntary groups in a host of areas from day care centres to sporting organisations and that the work they do with the participants is key.

The Minister just gave the usual stock response about the ongoing talks with representatives of CE supervisors and confidentiality. All we are asking here is for the Minister to clarify that the Government has not reneged on any aspect that was agreed in the talks process.

There is no stock response here. I have engaged in a process with the union since May. We agreed that we would keep our deliberations confidential and I am not in the habit of breaking an agreement that I have made with anybody. I am not sure what the Deputy means by "stock response".

There are several Deputies, and Deputy Heydon happens probably to be in the top three, who contact me weekly about this because they know and see the value of the work being done on the ground, not just because the participants are delivering the services but because the CE supervisors are delivering a huge service to the participants. It is up to us to deliver a service to recognise the value of that contribution. That is the process I engaged in this May. I am sorry that I am not in a position to give the Deputy the parameters but I am certain that if we were to start megaphone debating on what should or should not be done in the confines of a negotiations process I would be back where I was when there was another Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and no solution would be found. The commitment that I have given the unions, the CE supervisors is that I have taken this on as a challenge. I firmly believe they need to be rewarded and recognised. That change and challenge for me has formed part of the interdepartmental review and the reorganisation of CE and the acknowledgement of the work of our CE supervisors is a very large part of that.

I accept what the Minister says, that the Labour Court recommendation of 2008 is still there in the mix and does need to be addressed. Also this year I understand there is a Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, decision on the CE supervisor who has taken a case. Whether that decision will be appealed by the State I have no doubt that the fact the CE supervisor was successful would encourage others to go down that route. I know this does not affect only the Minister’s Department but also covers the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and I will make the same point to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe. It is imperative that we deal with this and do not force CE supervisors down the WRC route where there could be hundreds if not more such actions taken and appeals clogging up the system. I know the Minister accepts that it needs action.

I will cite the example of a participant on a CE scheme who had not worked for several years. She got a job on a CE scheme as a secretarial assistant. At a public meeting we held she told the story that when her seven year old child was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she said "I want to be a secretary like Mammy". Only then did her mother realise the impact that the years of her not having worked had on her child. That is the role it plays for participants and in our communities. The CE supervisors are integral to that and we have to support them in any way we can.

We all agree that CE supervisors do a great job and unfortunately have been left without a pension. Is the Minister aware of the decision made by the WRC in October which found that in the case of CE supervisors her Department is the employer, that it determines and pays their salary, determines all their working conditions, monitors everything they do on the IT system that the Department controls and supplies to them for their use yet she is saying the Department is not the employer. This is a decision of the WRC and I urge her to implement that decision. A pension scheme was to have been put in place for CE supervisors in 2008. They respected the economic catastrophe and allowed the Government time to honour a Labour Court recommendation made on their behalf and the belief that it would be honoured. I urge the Minister to prioritise this.

With respect to both Deputies I am aware of the WRC ruling in October. I am also aware that we were not there to defend ourselves against that ruling which is why an appeal will be taken. In case neither Deputy is aware, there have been two other cases taken by CE supervisors to the Labour Court and both have fallen because it found that we are not the CE supervisors’ employer.

I want to leave that aside because different judges will say yes on one day and no on another. These people do our bidding, and do it enormously well. They are responsible for some 12,000 people who are so far removed from the labour force that they are there to monitor, mentor and coach these people back into full employment in either the real or the supported economies. That is not underestimated by me or by the Department. The value of the contribution that each of those supervisors give the State cannot be overestimated. I do not underestimate or undervalue it. That is why I engaged in face to face round table talks for the first time with union representatives of CE supervisors and the CE supervisors. That Labour Court recommendation is not a ruling. Since that recommendation in 2008 not one Minister has dealt with it until I guaranteed that I would take this on and find a solution. That is what I will do. That is the only commitment I can make to the Deputies as I have made to them, that I will not let them down.

Questions came from Deputies Heydon, Smyth, O’Loughlin, Penrose, Browne and Brady, represented by Deputies Quinlivan and O’Dea. I thank the contributors and the Minister.