Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 March 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection
EU Employment Legislation and JobPath: Discussion
From the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, I welcome Mr. John Conlon, Ms Patricia Murphy, Mr. Chris Kane, Mr. Jim Lynch, Mr. Dermot Sheridan and Ms Orlaith Mannion. I understand Ms Murphy will make the Department's opening statement on the directive and the employment Bill while Mr. Conlon will make the Department's opening statement on JobPath.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I ask anyone with a mobile phone to switch it off or turn on flight mode, as otherwise they not only interfere with the meeting but also its recording.
We will take the two opening statements together, with Ms Patricia Murphy first, and then I will refer to members for questions.
Ms Patricia Murphy:
I thank the Chairman for the invitation to attend the joint committee this morning to discuss the European Commission’s proposal for a new directive on transparent and predictable working conditions and the Government’s Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. I am joined by my colleagues, Ms Orlaith Mannion and Mr. Dermot Sheridan, from the Department’s employment rights policy unit. I will make a short opening statement addressing both items, after which we would be pleased to take questions from the committee.
The committee already has the information note on the Commission proposal, which the Department prepared and submitted to the committee at the end of January which sets out the background to the proposal and provides a short summary of it. This is a significant proposal from the Commission because it seeks to update and replace an existing directive, 91/533/EEC, commonly referred to as the written statement directive, which dates from 1991. The written statement directive provides that employees starting a new job are entitled to a written statement of terms of employment within two months of commencement of employment. The directive sets down a list of information items that must be included in the statement. In Ireland the directive was transposed by the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994.
The proposal is also significant because it is in the very same space as the Government’s Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017, which proposes to update national legislation in this area. However, there are differences between the Commission proposal and the Bill. While the Bill pre-empts many aspects of the Commission proposal, the proposed directive includes elements which go beyond the measures included in the Bill in certain respects. Equally, the Bill goes beyond the Commission proposal in a number of respects.
The main differences between the Commission’s proposal and the comparable provisions in the Government’s Bill are as follows. The first relates to the directive's scope. The Commission proposal as drafted has a broad application and would include all workers, even those casually engaged on once-off work assignments. This could include situations where a domestic household engages a self-employed tradesperson, a plumber or a painter-decorator, for example, to carry out work at their home. The Government Bill on the other hand is focused on employees employed on a contract of service basis and excludes genuinely self-employed individuals. The second relates to the information to be provided to workers. The Commission proposal contains an extensive list of information to be provided in the written statement which includes a number of items not provided for in the Government’s Bill, including, for example, information relating to period of probation, training to be provided by the employer, and social security arrangements. The third relates to the time period within which information is to be provided. The Commission proposal provides that the statement containing all of the required information should be provided to the worker by the first working day at the latest. The Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, on the other hand, distinguishes between a shorter statement of five core terms of employment, which must be provided by day five of commencement of employment, and the remaining items to be provided within the current two-month period. The fourth relates to the favourable presumption of written terms. The Commission proposal provides that if certain information is not provided in the day one written statement, the employee may benefit from a number favourable presumptions such that, for example, the worker could be deemed to employed on a full-time, open ended position, without any probationary period. The Government Bill does not include favourable presumptions similar to those in the Commission proposal. However, it does provide that it shall be a criminal offence for an employer deliberately to provide false or misleading information to the employee as part of the day five statement of core terms. It also provides that it shall be a criminal offence for an employer who fails to provide the day five statement within a specified period.
I will now outline the main features of the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. The Bill is in response to the commitment in A Programme for a Partnership Government to address the problems caused by the increasing casualisation of work and to strengthen the regulation of precarious employment. The focus of the Bill is low-paid, more vulnerable workers, and its key objective is to improve the security and predictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours. To this end, the Bill addresses the following five key issues which have been identified as being areas where current employment law should be strengthened to the benefit of employees without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers. The first issue relates to ensuring that employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and in particular their core terms at an early stage of their employment. A new offence is being created where employers fail to comply with the new information requirements. The second issue is strengthening the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable employees who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work. The third issue is prohibiting zero-hour contracts, except in limited circumstances. The fourth issue is ensuring that employees on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than provided for in their contracts are entitled to be placed in a band of hours that better reflects the reality of the hours they have worked on a consistent basis over an extended period. The fifth issue is strengthening the anti-penalisation provisions for employees who invoke or try to invoke a right under these proposals.
The Bill seeks to achieve its aims through appropriate amendments to the Terms of Employment (Information) Act 1994 and the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. It is important to point out that this Bill is some three years in the making. It is the result of extensive consultations, including a public consultation following the University of Limerick study on zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts and detailed discussions with IBEC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions over several months. Considerable effort has been made to ensure the proposals contained in the Bill are balanced and fair to both employees and employers.
Ireland welcomes of the broad thrust of the Commission proposal to update EU legislation in this area which is in line with what is happening at national level here. However, our position on individual elements of the proposal will be guided by the need to find the right balance between providing improved protections for employees without imposing unnecessarily onerous burdens on employers. Where new rights are introduced for employees or where existing provisions are strengthened, these should be proportionate and balanced. This is the approach that underpins the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017. Our approach will also be guided by consultations with stakeholders on the Commission proposal.
Discussions on the Commission proposal commenced last month in the social questions working party in Brussels. A second meeting of that working group took place earlier this week. Obviously, consideration of the proposal is at very early stage and most member states have entered a scrutiny reservation. However, it is worth noting that at the first meeting of the working group, nearly all member states voiced strong reservations about the very broad scope of the Commission proposal arguing that the definition of “worker” should not include genuinely self-employed persons. In response, the Commission has indicated that the intention is to exclude genuinely self-employed persons from its scope.
Mr. John Conlon:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before it today to discuss the JobPath employment service. I am joined by my colleagues Mr. Chris Kane, principal officer with responsibility for contracted employment services and Mr Jim Lynch, principal officer with responsibility for operations and service delivery in the Limerick region.
It would be useful to set out for committee members some of the background to the JobPath service, how it operates and how it is monitored by the Department as well as some other issues in which I understand the committee is interested. The need for additional resources to provide activation support for unemployed people became increasingly acute during the economic downturn. Increased use of contracting, including with the private sector, was identified as an appropriate and necessary part of the response to this challenge in the National Economic and Social Council report on support and services for unemployed jobseekers in 2011. Contracting is considered to be the most appropriate approach to augmenting resource capacity to deliver services during a period of peak demand. Given the Government decision to intensify the level of service provided to people who are long-term unemployed, as set out in the Pathways to Work policy statement from July 2013, the additional capacity secured under the JobPath contracts is focused on supporting people who are long-term unemployed.
Internationally, contracted models similar to JobPath were first developed in the 1980s and are commonplace in many OECD countries.
The planning and design of JobPath drew on extensive research and experience elsewhere and took account of OECD reports on labour market activation and experience in countries such as the UK, Australia, Germany, Holland, France, Norway, Japan and Finland. In addition, the Department engaged the independent Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion in London to advise on the design of JobPath. Consultations were also held with the Department for Work and Pensions in Great Britain and the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland. Advice was also obtained from leading academics, such as Professor Dan Finn, University of Portsmouth, and also from the NESC, ESRI, the Geary Institute in UCD and NUI Maynooth. The planning and design was overseen by an interdepartmental board, chaired by the Department. The Department also held a number of consultative fora with interested stakeholders as part of the process of finalising the procurement process.
The roll-out of JobPath commenced in July 2015 on a so-called soft launch basis and was completed in June 2016. All counties now have a JobPath service. The service is delivered in more than 80 locations throughout the country. Some 151,000 people engaged with the JobPath service up to the end of February 2018.
Through the JobPath employment service, jobseekers receive intensive individual support to help them address barriers to employment and to find jobs. Each person is assigned a personal adviser who assesses their skills, experience, challenges and work goals and agrees a personal progression plan that includes a schedule of activities, actions and job-focused targets. Jobseekers are provided with a range of development supports. They may spend up to a year with the service, during which time they may also spend additional periods undertaking educational or training courses. If the person secures employment, he or she may continue to receive support for up to a year.
I emphasise thatJobPath has not replaced any existing service provision, either that provided directly by staff within the Department or that provided under other external activation services. Its purpose is to complement and augment our core capacity and to enable the Department to adapt the total level of resourcing in a flexible manner in line with variations in demand for employment services. The use of contracting in such circumstances is provided for under the Towards 2016, Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements, as confirmed by the findings of the independent arbitration board established under these agreements. I emphasise thatJobPath does not have any negative impact on the existing local employment service, LES, and Jobs Club services. The Department has continued its contractual arrangements with the LES and Jobs Club providers following the introduction of JobPath.
Committee members may be familiar with criticisms of the model of contracting that had evolved in Great Britain. It should be noted that the JobPath contract model differs significantly from the Great Britain model, and the Department is satisfied, based on the inputs and advices received, to which I referred, that the JobPath design addresses the perceived deficiencies of that model, in particular with regard to issues such as what are referred to as cream skimming or parking, which is where hard-to-place jobseekers are parked and contractors focus on easy-to-place clients, and also customer service obligations and employment sustainability. Customers are referred to providers on the basis of the duration on the live register in that they must have been unemployed or underemployed for more than one year. The referral process does not allow for pre-screening in respect of various factors, for example, qualifications or likelihood of exit from unemployment.
Taking account of the advice and feedback received and our own analysis of the performance, benefits and risks associated with contracting models in other countries, we designed JobPath over the period 2012 to 2013. The key elements of the design are that JobPath would support the long-term unemployed; the Department selects all the clients that are referred, and the JobPath contractors have no say whatsoever in the selection of clients; the period of engagement on the programme for any individual client is for up to 52 weeks; unlike in Great Britain, jobseekers can be referred, and have access, to further education and training opportunities while on JobPath; every participant is guaranteed a baseline level of service – a service guarantee – ensuring that all participants receive support to develop a personal progression plan, regular one-to-one and face-to-face meetings with personal advisers at a frequency of at least once per month, assistance with CV and job interview preparation, job search assistance, and in-work support; and JobPath providers have flexibility in addressing whatever barriers a jobseeker may have in securing employment, for example, child care support, travel expenses, training on basic literacy skills, computer skills and other work-specific skills.
JobPath is a payment-by-results model, and all costs, including for the establishment, fitting out and staffing of offices have been borne by the companies. Payments to contractors are contingent on the providers meeting minimum service standards and minimum performance levels. The companies are paid a registration fee for each client who engages with them. When a person secures employment, a job sustainment fee is payable upon completion of each 13 week period of sustained employment of no less than 30 hours per week.
To the end of December 2017, a total of €84 million was paid to both contractors. This is broken down as follows: €1.2 million in 2015, €25.2 million in 2016, and €54 million in 2017. The Department is not publishing the individual payments to the JobPath companies as these are commercially sensitive. To do so would place the State at a disadvantage both in terms of the contracts now in place and any future procurement that may be undertaken.
In January 2018, the Department published the most recent report on the performance of the service for those referred over the period from quarter 3 of 2015 to quarter 2 of 2016. These data are preliminary and are based on only 25% of those who have engaged with the service. Nevertheless, they are encouraging. The headline figure for total employment outcomes, that is, people who have secured employment during the period of their engagement, for those referred to the service up to June 2016 was 25%. Some 18% of jobseekers who engaged with the service during this period obtained full-time employment. A further 4% entered part-time employment and a further 3% became self-employed.
The key findings so far are that employment outcomes improve the longer a customer is engaged with the service, and the outcomes so far are good for those who have been unemployed for three years or more. This cohort has been disengaged from the labour market for a significant period and has traditionally been the most difficult to assist in a return to employment. This is a very positive experience for those customers who secured and sustained employment, and it is welcome. We can expect the reported outcomes to improve over time, as over 80% of the 39,000 people covered in these reports were referred to the service in the first six months of 2016.
As I have mentioned, these data are limited to a particular timeframe and involve a small size relative to the overall number referred. Conscious of these limitations, the Department is undertaking a full econometric review of the JobPath strand of its activation services. This review will involve much more in-depth analysis to assess performance to date and to understand the interventions that have benefited the customers and to be able to analyse the impacts on a range of factors, such as age, gender and educational attainment. Completion of the review is scheduled for the end of quarter 3 of 2018, following which more detailed and robust statistics will be available.
The Department has published the results of two independently conducted JobPath customer satisfaction surveys since the commencement of the service. These surveys indicate consistently high and improving levels of satisfaction with all aspects of the service provided. Most encouraging is the high number of clients who feel the service has improved their chance of getting a job.
The findings can be summarised as follows: overall satisfaction has improved from a mean score of 4.05 in 2016 to 4.26 in 2017 out of a total score of5; scores across the key areas of offices, staff, services and processes are very strong and all scores have improved significantly by comparison with the previous year; and strongest improvementsare noted in the performance of JobPath providers delivering a good understanding of the service being offered at the first group meeting, timely organisation of the first meeting within two weeks of the group session, and personal adviser aid to develop a personal progression plan.
Participants with the JobPath service are not required to sign a contract with the JobPath companies but, in the same manner as all customers referred to the Department's internal and external activation services, they are requested to agree to and sign a personal progression plan. The plan includes an agreed schedule of job-focused activities, actions and targets personalised to take account of the person's specific qualifications and employment preferences. Participants on JobPath receive intensive individual support to help them to address barriers to employment.
JobPath participants receive intensive individual support to help them address barriers to employment. The contents of the personal progression plan will probably change during the person's engagement with the service as he or she develops new skills or experience which may broaden his or her employment options.
All jobseekers are required to engage with the Department's activation services. This applies regardless of whether the service is provided by the Department's own case officers or those employed by contracted companies. A failure to engage with the Department's activation services or to take up a suitable job opportunity may result in the application of a sanction, but all decisions regarding a person's social welfare entitlements are taken by departmental officials. The JobPath companies may neither recommend nor apply a sanction to a jobseeker. They are required to advise the Department when a customer does not engage or co-operate with the service. The process for sanctioning clients who do not engage with the JobPath activation process is exactly the same as the process for clients who fail to engage with the Department's own activation services. Any decision regarding a person's welfare entitlements while on JobPath or with any of the activation services are taken only by departmental officials and not by contracted providers. The application of a sanction to a jobseeker's payment is governed by the provisions of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, as amended by the 2013 Act. Jobseekers can request a deciding officer to review the decision or appeal the deciding officer's decision to the social welfare appeals office.
I know some members have visited the offices of the JobPath providers in their constituencies. I extend an invitation to members to visit the JobPath providers in their areas. We would be delighted to assist them in arranging such visits. I thank the committee. I would be glad to take any questions.
I thank Mr. Conlon. Before I go to the committee members I will briefly raise two matters. First, Ms Murphy in her conclusion talked about the current position regarding the directive. I ask her to give a very brief overview to the committee of this process and the timelines surrounding the directive.
I wish to address Mr. Conlon on the second matter and then I will open the discussion up to the committee. I do not expect him to be able to answer this, but there is information he might provide to the committee that would be useful. This is an ongoing piece of work the committee is doing and not just a single day's hearing. I was surprised by two comments he made in his written submission. It states, "I want to emphasise that JobPath has not replaced any existing service provision, either that provided directly by staff within the Department or that provided under other external activation services." It goes on to state, "I also want to emphasise that JobPath does not have any negative impact on the existing Local Employment Service (LES) and Job Clubs." I do not know whether that is true. It is just a statement. What I would like from the Department are the monthly referrals for a number of years from the Department to JobPath, the LES, community employment, CE, and so forth. It is very easy to say there are fewer referrals now because, obviously, the live register is smaller. I ask for this information in order that we can see month by month the referrals to the different groups when the live register was at a certain level. Members of the committee would be of the view that referrals to the likes of the LES are not what they were previously. I do not want to get into the numbers now, but information on the referrals to the committee on a month-by-month basis, in tabular form, would be quite useful.
As I said, I do not want to have the meeting bogged down in the matter, but Mr. Conlon made those points and we would like to see the numbers to support them. I do not want to hold the meeting up. Does Ms Murphy wish to comment on the timeline surrounding the directive?
Ms Patricia Murphy:
The Commission hopes the directive will be agreed. It will be dealt with at the working party during the term of the current Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which runs until the end of June. However, the directive may not be agreed. It is perhaps unlikely it will be agreed. There are a number of big issues. Once agreed, it would go to the Parliament for the trial out process.
Mr. John Conlon:
Regarding referral to the LES in particular, we will provide the relevant data and a note to explain the data. We did reduce the number of clients per case officer in LES companies to allow for a more intensive service by those companies for those long-term unemployed. I will outline this in a note to the committee as well.
I understand quite well that it might be difficult to have such figures at a meeting, but the members would like to be able to scrutinise those referrals because certainly the anecdotal evidence from the LES is that there has been a significant reduction in referrals to it. Mr. Conlon stated specifically on two occasions that JobPath was not negatively impacting the LES. The committee would like to see the detail of this.
Mr. John Conlon:
We are committed to working with our LES partners and do so. JobPath did not start until 2015. The numbers on the register before then, particularly in respect of unemployment, were quite high, so there was a lot of pressure on the LES. We therefore took some pressure off the LES by reducing the client-case officer ratio, but this was to reflect the huge volume we had and to allow it to work more intensively with what we were giving it.
I welcome the officials and thank them for coming before the committee. I thank Ms Murphy for updating us on the progress of the proposed EU directive. She said in her opening statement that in some cases the Irish legislation goes beyond what Europe was seeking and in some cases does not go as far. We do not know exactly when this directive will ultimately emerge so we will have to get on with the Bill because, as Ms Murphy said, it has been three years in gestation. All we can do is try to anticipate it as best we can. It is virtually certain that when the directive becomes law here, we will have to amend the Bill. I wish to ask Ms Murphy a number of questions. She referred to various representations or various submissions made by various member states, particularly concerning the area of casual work. Have we made any submissions as a State? Have we put in any observations on the directive? This is a negotiating process. As we go along we will presumably make further representations. Will this committee have an input into that? Will we be able to tell the Department what we would like to see in the EU directive?
I thank Ms Mannion. I thank Mr. Conlon for his presentation. He stated that schemes similar to JobPath are commonplace in other OECD countries. May we have some more information on this? The witnesses could give us something in writing, not necessarily today, about when such schemes were introduced in these various countries, the extent to which they are still operating and whether any of them have been discontinued.
I agree with the Chairman in that all the anecdotal evidence coming to me suggests that the LES and the Jobs Clubs have been adversely affected, so I look forward to the Department's list of referrals in that regard.
Regarding the data the witnesses have provided, I will tell them straight out that I am amazed at the cost of this: €1.2 million in 2015, €25.2 million in 2016, shooting up to €54 million in 2017. Do the witnesses have any idea what it will be in 2018? Are we going to continue on the same path?
It is adding up to a huge cost for the State. Mr. Conlon said that study was limited because it only took in 25% of cases. We are subjected to opinion polls here all the time whereby a polling company interviews 1,000 people and tells us all correctly how many votes each of us will get in the next election based on that. I think 25% is a fairly representative sample, and 18% finish up with full-time employment. That is a damning indictment, quite frankly. I will go through the matters I wish to raise and the witnesses can respond afterwards. That figure is pretty grim, especially for the amount of money we are spending. I noticed, by the way, that when Mr. Conlon was referring to the surveys that were carried out on satisfaction levels, he did not refer at all to the numbers polled.
That is just a side issue. The officials have stated that an econometric review of JobPath is being undertaken by the Department, which will not be completed until the third quarter of 2018. Is there any chance it could be speeded up a bit? When the review is completed, any recommended changes will have to be put in place, which all takes time. If something is not working, the longer it is left in place the more taxpayers' money is being spent unnecessarily. We are almost down to an unemployment rate of 5% or 6%, which in most states is regarded as full employment. One would imagine that with the economy growing so quickly and unemployment falling so quickly, many in that 18% cohort would probably have got jobs anyway.
We receive repeated requests here about people who are running and managing community employment, CE, schemes, as well as from representatives of communities who have benefitted from CE schemes. There is a rule that if somebody is engaged by JobPath, they are ineligible to go on a CE scheme. Mr. Conlon stated that such people are eligible for further education, training and claiming expenses etc. I would like to know what that figure came to. What is the origin of the rule in respect of JobPath and the CE schemes? Is it statute-based or is it just some internal rule that the Department applies? What is the justification for it?
I have a lot of questions; I hope Mr. Conlon will take note of them all. In his opening statement, under the heading "background", he stated that the need for additional resources to provide activation support for unemployed people became increasingly acute during the economic downturn. Does he believe it is still necessary to have that additional capacity now? As Deputy O'Dea mentioned, unemployment levels are down to 6% with slightly more than 141,000 people on the live register.
When JobPath was being thought out within the Department, did officials look at other labour activation schemes that were in place, such as the local enterprise schemes, LESs, and so on, with a view to increasing capacity in those areas rather than opting for the privatised model?
Mr. Conlon also mentioned that the Department got advice and guidance in England during the formation of JobPath. The Department would have been made aware of serious concerns, on which Mr. Conlon touched, in respect of cherry-picking some clients and sidelining others. Mr. Conlon mentioned that the Department has put in place systems to stop that and perhaps he will elaborate. The Department also would have been made aware of serious fraud cases in the UK involving one of the companies that got the contract in this State, namely, Seetec. There is a lot of concern and many allegations have been borne out in the UK. Did this feed into the officials' deliberations when awarding the contract to that company?
What interested stakeholders did the officials meet in the process? Mr. Conlon stated that jobseekers receive intensive individual support but I would question that. Can he define "intensive"? Many who have been referred to JobPath, Turas Nua and Seetec would question that there was intensive individual support. There is first-hand evidence, not anecdotal evidence, that many people are left to their own devices sitting in front of computers week in, week out, with no intensive support.
Mr. Conlon mentioned the personal progression plan. As he failed to make a categoric statement, I will ask him a straight question. Is that a contract, yes or no? I know from speaking to many people, including former advisers in JobPath and Turas Nua, that they are told not to let anybody leave the office without signing it. They are told it is essentially the contract and if they do not sign it, they will not get payment. Mr. Conlon will be aware of the case of Fagan v.Seetec. Not only did the judge state that the man did not have to sign the personal progression plan; the penalties that had been applied had to be fully reinstated and backdated. How many other people have refused to sign the plan? Have those payments been reinstated?
The Chairman and Deputy O'Dea mentioned local enterprise schemes and anecdotal evidence. It is not anecdotal evidence that the numbers going over to LESs have diminished. It is a fact. I have responses to parliamentary questions that show categorically that referrals to LESs are down right across the board. That is solid evidence. The creation of JobPath has had a direct impact on LESs. It is not in his statement but Mr. Conlon did say the ratio has been cut retrospectively. That is easy to say now. It is a direct consequence of the creation of JobPath.
The figure is €84 million since the formation of JobPath. The number of jobs people had been given up to June 2016 was 6,111. Doing a rough calculation, in 2015, from its foundation, JobPath cost €1.25 million and in 2016 the figure was €25 million. Roughly cutting that figure in half to bring us up to June, from 2015 to June 2016 it would be realistic to say that it cost around €13.7 million. To get 6,111 people into employment - only 18% of all those who had been referred at that stage - cost €13.7 million. We have moved on now and we are into 2018. Mr. Conlon has given very accurate figures, with costs of €84 million up to this point. How many full-time jobs have been provided to people for that cost? Surely Mr. Conlon will have an exact figure for jobs acquired.
Within that figure, Mr. Conlon talked about 25% of people going into employment, be it full time or returning to part-time work or becoming self employed. Some 4% went back into part-time employment. Many people who are referred to JobPath are deemed to be under-employed, to use the Department's own terminology. They might be caring for children at home and working a day or two a week because it suits them. For the aforementioned 4%, have their social welfare payments been stopped? Are they still receiving a payment? If they are, there is a serious contradiction.
People who are happy enough working a day or two a week are referred to JobPath initially and then the result is that 4% have gone into part-time employment when they were probably in part-time employment beforehand.
Sanctions represent a serious bone of contention for many people. I touched on the High Court judgment in Fagan v.Seetec. Does Mr. Conlon have an exact figure of how many sanctions are in place because Fagan v.Seetec has serious implications for the roll-out of JobPath and the signing of the personal progression plan?
I apologise for bombarding Mr. Conlon with more questions but that is what he is here for. My first question was prompted by the Chairman in private session. The Department has indicated it would not be favourably disposed to Seetec or Turas Nua appearing before this committee to give evidence. Will the witnesses comment on that and explain if that is true? If it is true, what is the reason for it?
My next question is quite direct. I do not know if I know the answer already. If someone is engaged with Seetec or Turas Nua, are they then taken off the live register and do not appear as part of the statistics of unemployed people? I have queries that I have put through the Department involving an individual - I will not use names here because there is a two-pronged edge to it - who was told that once that person was in Seetec, the individual would not be on the live register. The person was told this by Seetec. We probably need to know how that changes the unemployment figures.
I have two questions about how the scheme is used. Members are at the coalface and deal with people who are engaged in these schemes all the time. They come to our clinics, ring us up and write to us and we table parliamentary questions on their behalf. Many people are being crossed over between being offered a community employment scheme, a Tús place or a course that might really put them on a career path and give them training in order that they could do something they would like to do that they find socially useful and that enhances their humanity, rather than running down their dignity. They are being told consistently by Seetec that they cannot go on the community employment scheme and that if it overlaps with Seetec taking them into its scheme, they cannot go on it. I received a very interesting letter. I will refer to the man concerned as "Mr. X". Mr. X lives in Ballyfermot. He was randomly selected for the Tús initiative in November 2016 and was interviewed for a Tús placement in January 2017 and placed on a panel. Mr. X was interviewed again on 30 January 2017 for a placement with a host company and Garda vetting was submitted on 2 February 2017. Mr. X was selected for JobPath on 9 January 2017, which was prior to the Tús placement being offered. JobPath would take the priority over Tús in this case. However, having spoken to Mr. X, I contacted JobPath central to inquire whether his selection for JobPath could be deferred. JobPath advised that there were no extenuating circumstances in the case of Mr. X and that he would have to remain on JobPath for 12 months but in the following year, he could avail of any other schemes. Who is running the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection? Is it Seetec and JobPath or is the witnesses? The Department was willing to make an exception and allow Mr. X to go on the scheme for which he was looking but, according to the Department, it was overruled by the company itself. That begs the question as to who is pulling the horse. Is the cart pulling the horse or is the horse pulling the cart? This is a genuine question. I come across this dozens of times. There is clear written evidence from the Department in two cases in front of me.
Incidentally, I hate the way the Department calls people customers and note Mr. Conlon called them customers in his statement. That is a post-modernism. My next point relates to giving support for child care. In his statement, Mr. Conlon stated that JobPath provides flexibility in addressing whatever barriers a jobseeker may have in securing employment, for example, child care, travel expenses, training, etc. Let us take the case of Mary who is on JobPath. She went for an interview with JobPath with her child because she was not told she could not take her child and had no money to have the child minded. Seetec sent her home and told her she should not be there for the interview with her child. Seetec reported that to the Department. The following interview that was arranged for her was scheduled when her child was in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. She was sitting with the child and reported that to the Department. Seetec then reported to the Department that she failed to appear for the second appointment and her payments were cut by €45 per week. It is now on appeal. The statement that Seetec provides support for child care and does its best flies in the face of what happened. It happened with the collusion of the Department because the Department states that the way the scheme works is that unlike the UK, Seetec does not apply the sanctions; the Department does. I really want to know what is going on here. It is a can of worms.
My next question concerns the High Court judgment referred to by Deputy Brady. The judgment was not given in favour of Mr. Fagan because the payments were reinstated by the Department beforehand. Can the witnesses comment on why the payments were reinstated all of sudden before the High Court got to rule on the case? Is it the witnesses' estimation that if the High Court got to rule on the case, it might have further implications for other individuals on the scheme? This is why I had page six of Mr. Conlon's statement on my brain. Page six makes reference to individuals signing contracts with private companies. It states that participants with the JobPath service are not required to sign a contract with the JobPath companies but they are, in the same manner as all customers referred to the Department's internal and external activation services, requested to agree to and sign a personal progression plan. Should they refuse to sign it, as Mr. Fagan did, are they liable to penalties? I invite the witnesses to comment on this issue.
Have the witnesses read a 2016 study by Boland and Griffin that describes the system as one that is becoming more alienating and punitive where welfare recipients feel humiliated, degraded and coerced by sanctioning processes and increasingly experience anxiety, depression and erosion of personal agency? Will the witnesses comment on that study because I do not think there is a huge amount of academic studies in this area in Ireland? I am interested to see that some of the independent academic studies tally with a lot of what is being said, which is that services are being delivered that are like the services delivered in Britain and portrayed in "I, Daniel Blake". Britain has had much longer experience of it and there already have been incidents of corruption and deceit, as already have been outlined by the previous Deputy. In addition, the impact on the individuals concerned can be hugely corrosive, degrading and destructive.
A number of issues have already been covered so I will focus on one or two in particular. Before talking about JobPath, I have a few questions for Ms Murphy about the directive. I note that one of the aspects of the directive that has been very much welcomed by the European Trade Union Confederation and others is protection for trade union workplace representatives and for collective bargaining. Is that something Ireland will be supporting? Does it enhance or is it similar to what we have? Does it go further in terms of protections for those who are organising around the protection of the rights of workers?
I wish to comment on the idea of the favourable basis. I note that in the legislation proposed at the moment, it would be a criminal offence to be actively false or misleading.
While actively false and misleading is one aspect, negligence is another aspect in the context of failing to provide. We could probably keep the proposed criminal offence, but would there be any reason not to introduce the idea, which seems to be set forth in the directive that when people have not been given clear information and appropriate notification of their conditions of employment - be it by the first day, the fifth day or whatever limit we set in Ireland - an automatic favourable setting of their conditions of employment should be applied. It might be a more practicable measure. In real terms, I do not believe many people will be seeking to have criminal sanctions invoked on employers. The fact of a default favourable set of employment conditions would be a measure that would encourage people to have clarity. It is very positive.
Reference was made to the concerns around the genuinely self-employed. We also have very serious concerns around the bogus self-employed. One of the key concerns of Senator Ged Nash's legislation currently passing through the Seanad relates to the question of who determines what is or is not self-employment. There are situations at the moment where employers, for example, are effectively telling employees that they are self-employed. The determination is not clearly made by the individual on what basis they are being contracted. It is an extraordinary situation where the person who is not the employer nonetheless decides on what basis the worker is contracted. In genuinely tackling bogus self-employment in determining that individuals are given proper and clear guidelines around what is and is not self-employment, does the Department see where elements of that legislation could be incorporated to ensure the new legislation is more in line with the directive?
Turning to one aspect of JobPath, the points around costs have been well made. I absolutely share the concerns on local employment services, and not just about referrals. I am also concerned about contracts that come up for renewal. There are extraordinary local employment services in the State that provide holistic and positive services in areas of real unemployment black spots, for example, areas such as the south east. There is concern about contract renewal because while we talk of the reduction of referrals and moving down, there is a question over the long-term plan. Does the Department now see scope for increasing the work undertaken by local employment services? Given that JobPath was introduced partly during the moratorium on recruitment of direct caseworkers by the Department of Social Protection and now that direct caseworkers can again be employed, will there be a re-evaluation of that role?
I wish to focus on the personal progression plan and whether it is a contract. The Minister has been very clear that she does not consider the plans to be a contract. The Department stated clearly that it does not regard them as a contract. In the contractual relationship between Turas Nua, Seetec and the Department, do personal progression plans feature or are they a consideration in activating payment for Turas Nua or Seetec for individuals? In the JobPath report produced by my colleague and others, it seems that caseworkers felt that in order to secure the potential payment, a person needed to have signed a personal progression plan. Is a personal progression plan considered by the Department as the measure of engagement, or is it not? This would put huge pressure on the individual down the line. It has been suggested that people are asked to agree and to sign it. The judgment is very clear. The Minister also spoke of it being voluntary.
Mr. Duggan made a judgment in the case we discussed earlier. His decision not to proceed with the court case was on the basis that not only does the applicant have his deducted moneys returned, he has also advised that the penalties and deductions were erroneously applied to the individual. Is it the case that penalties and deductions that are applied on the basis that a person has not agreed to sign a personal progression plan, but is willing to co-operate nonetheless, are erroneous and should not be applied? I have specific answers the Minister gave to me during the debate on social welfare last December, which are really interesting. Personal progression plans are commonly used by Intreo, local employment services and others. Personal progression plans with a private company, however, are different regarding the appropriateness and because there needs to be a very clear wall between payment. In this particular court case, the individual was told about potential sanctions being included in the personal progression plan. This seems very inappropriate. Is this still the practice? Is there still a message within personal progression plans with Turas Nua and Seetec that people may face penalties? The messages received by that individual suggested that he may need to avail of any opportunity to employment prospects and take up any offers of support. This is a key question we have seen and it is a question of choice.
In today's presentation the Department told the committee that, unlike in Great Britain, jobseekers in Ireland can be referred to or have access to further education and training opportunities. It would be really useful if the committee could have information on the percentage of those who pass through JobPath and are referred to and are accessing further education or training, the percentage of people who may wish to access the back to education allowance and the routes out of JobPath for those who may wish to move back into education? Although it was referred to in the Department's statement today, I notice there are absolutely no figures in any of the reports in the context of people going back to education, into long-term training or into apprenticeships. The only figures we see for how this process is measured, how satisfaction is being measured, and how the success of JobPath is measured is in employment figures, which are poor.
With regard to what is or is not appropriate around personal progression plans signed with private companies, I specifically asked the Minister in the Seanad about the sections in personal progression plans that require people to share information about their family members or co-habitees. There are also sections in a number of personal progression plans - which I have seen - that require people to share information and agree that Seetec or Turas Nua can contact an employer the individual may have found by themselves separate from Seetec and Turas Nua. This seems to be extremely inappropriate. In the Seanad, the Minister stated and confirmed to me that no one should face any sanction or reduction in their payment based on the fact that he or she does not want to share information about their co-habitants or information about a separate employer. Have those elements been removed or are they still standard in the personal progression plans of these private companies? There is a data protection aspect also in that regard. If people request these elements to be removed from personal progression plans, are they automatically removed?
I will not come in again but there is one other area where the Minister was very clear. The Minister, Deputy Doherty, told me that people should be able to take the personal progression plan away from a meeting, seek advice on it and come back to suggest amendments. What is the information on this? Are there many examples of people who have suggested amendments and who have had those amendments accepted to their personal progression plans? Are people allowed to take the personal progression plan from a meeting, seek external advice and return? Are these people advised? Would the Department agree that people should be advised that they can take away their personal progression plan to seek advice on it? From what we have heard and from the reports, I am aware that in some cases people are put in front of a computer screen and are more or less to click here. That is not a plan that people can take away.
There is a reference on page four to child care support, travel expenses, etc. Does the Department have any figures on how much has been spent on providing those? There is a registration fee for each client signed up. There is also a job sustainment fee if the client gets a job for at least 13 weeks for at least 30 hours per week. What is the registration fee? How much is the fee that is paid automatically when the client signs up and how much is the sustainment fee?
I want to get information. Obviously, we know the overall figure of €84 million for Turas Nua and Seetec. However, any time I and others try to get information as to the actual breakdown of that figure, we are told commercial sensitivity prevents it. The reality is that Turas Nua and Seetec know what they get, and simple maths will tell one what the other is getting. They know, whereas we and the taxpayers who are funding this are being kept completely in the dark. Can Mr. Conlon give an exact figure for how much taxpayers' money Seetec is getting and how much Turas Nua is getting?
There are a significant number of questions so I hope Mr. Conlon got them all. One question he might answer very directly was that raised by Senator Higgins on a technical issue. We know the JobPath companies get paid on a phased basis. The questions was whether the signing of a personal progression plan triggers a payment at that point. Mr. Conlon might address that directly.
Mr. John Conlon:
I could not keep up with all the questions so I have not noted them all, but I will do my best in terms of assisting the committee. In addition, we take notes of the blacks afterwards and we will write back to the committee. I do not want to be accused of not answering questions but there were a huge number of them.
Mr. John Conlon:
In regard to the opening questions on dealing with the long-term unemployed, the capacity we have with JobPath and LES and whether that is required going forward, people need to remember that when we started designing JobPath, the number of long-term unemployed was colossal. At that stage our capacity to intervene and assist those people was very limited, as was the capacity of LES, and we were quite over-burdened. That is why we took the decision at that stage to contract an additional service so we could increase our resources and this would give us a ratio of case officers to unemployed that was more consistent with the ratio across Europe. We were far behind in terms of our capacity and ability to help the long-term unemployed.
That is the context in which we were then. We are now in a position where the case officer ratio, between the Intreo service, LES and JobPath, is somewhat at the norm the OECD would like to see for a case officer ratio when dealing with unemployed people, which is what we want to maintain. That is very important background because our case officer ratio to all unemployed, particularly long-term unemployed, was very poor in 2012, and that needs to be borne in mind when considering the policy context then, as well as where we are now and where we want to remain.
Mr. John Conlon:
I can get the Deputy the exact figures but it was in the thousands when we would require a case officer ratio to be some 200:1. I can firm up on those figures but I think we were at a ratio of perhaps 1,200:1. That meant we could not provide the required services to unemployed people, particularly to the long-term unemployed. That is sometimes forgotten in the debate about our capacity as a Department to deal with the long-term unemployed.
There were a number of references to the Fagan case and Deputies are coming at it from different angles. Deputy Bríd Smith was right in her comment that the Department reviewed the decision. I want to make some comments on our decision making processes across all our schemes.
Mr. John Conlon:
The Fagan case. We value being able to make proper decisions at the right time in the right place. If we get it wrong, we review it. All our decisions are subject to appeals. All our appeals are subject to subsequent Ombudsman review. We value that capacity to have decisions reviewed, appealed and then reviewed by the Ombudsman. Across all our schemes we review decisions every week. If we get it wrong, we will change decisions.
I am not familiar with the details of the Fagan case but the deciding officers did review that decision at the time not because we were in the High Court, but based on the facts of the case and the information given to them. We do not necessarily take it that the situation is fine because the High Court will review it; we review decisions across all our schemes consistently when requested. Our customer charter - our own standards in terms of decision making - is something we are very proud of; we work on it and we will continue to work on it. I want to make it clear for the committee that we value our capacity to consistently review decisions. If we get things wrong, we will change our mind and we will change decisions. That is a value we have and I want to make it clear.
I accept that but, in the case of Mr. X in Ballyfermot, the Department reviewed it and made a certain decision. JobPath came back and told it that it was not happy with that decision and that it wanted him to stay on JobPath for another 12 months. Mr. X had an opportunity to do a course in social care through a Tús scheme, something he was interested in and something we need in this society. The Department reviewed it and said that Mr. X should be able to go, but JobPath came back and said he could not. This is on the Department's headed notepaper. That is why I am asking Mr. Conlon who is running the show.
Mr. John Conlon:
I cannot answer specifically as I am not aware of the case. Even though my vision is not great, I do not see that as our headed paper, actually. To make it clear, JobPath providers have no role in decision making in our schemes or services - none whatsoever. Decisions on entitlements, penalty rates and sanctions are made by officials in the Department, not by JobPath providers. In regard to the case mentioned, and in regard to any other case any Deputy or Senator wants to bring to our attention, we will review it if it is given to us. We consistently answer representations and parliamentary questions by asking for these things to be given to us but very few come to us when we ask for that. I am proud that the Department will review decisions and correct them if they are wrong, but they must be given to us.
First, I want to confirm that this is Department headed paper; I am looking at it. I think the problem is not a number of individual cases because it should not fall on individuals and individual representatives - we need to move past clientelist politics - rather it is a question of where patterns are emerging. That is what we have asked Mr. Conlon about, namely, where there are patterns of decisions emerging, where poor practice has emerged or where bad decisions have been made. I am asking him to address, if there is a concern, whether it is within the remit of-----
Mr. John Conlon:
I am not sure if there is a pattern but I will commit to reviewing all instances that are brought to our attention. As I said, our customer charter, our decision-making process and our decision advisory service are there to help us to do that and we will do it. I am not sure if a pattern is emerging but I want to be quite clear that, as I said, JobPath providers do not make decisions, we do.
With regard to the Fagan case, the judge did not decide to reinsert penalty rates. That was done by the Department. As I do not want to refer to specific cases, I will not make any further comment on that.
On the Fagan case, Mr. Conlon said he did not want to refer to it any further and that is fine. However, the Department said that penalties and deductions were erroneously applied to him because he refused to sign the personal progression plan. That is the core point. I asked a specific question, namely, on that basis, if the Department will continue to penalise anyone else who refuses to sign the personal progression plan.
Mr. John Conlon:
I want to talk about personal progression plans for a moment as I believe there is a context that needs to be explained. Deputy Brady asked a very direct question as to whether it is a contract. It is not. It is an agreement between the client - the person who is receiving jobseeker payments - and their personal adviser as to how they agree to proceed in terms of making them more job-ready and seeking employment. There is no direct penalty if a person does not sign a personal progression plan.
We make decisions on whether a person has a continuing entitlement to a jobseeker's payment in the round. The legislation requires people to be available for and genuinely seeking work. Seeking work is part of activation services and getting people work ready. While a refusal to sign a personal progression plan may not mean that a sanction will be applied, our deciding officer should be looking at decisions in the round and having regard to that and whether the person is participating in JobPath or any other activation service we offer and is continuously seeking employment. That has to be taken in the round, not of itself, but deciding officers should be looking at the person's overall capacity of engagement with the service, of seeking employment and continuing to do so.
Mr. John Conlon:
In itself, it is not a ground but it could indicate that a person is not engaging otherwise as well. Every case would be dealt with on its own, but if a person does not sign a personal progression plan, it may indicate to a deciding officer to question whether the individual is engaging with the service, and genuinely seeking work. It will be an indicator rather than a ground in itself.
There are many cases where a person has said upfront that he or she is willing to engage with the process but does not want to sign the personal progression plan because he or she sees it as a contract. Will Mr. Conlon tell us how many people do that and whether penalties are imposed on them?
Mr. John Conlon:
I mentioned in my opening statement that a personal progression plan is not a static document. It is something that is reviewed every time a client or customer meets the personal adviser. It should be reviewed as the months and weeks pass by as to how the person is doing in the context of getting more work ready and seeking employment. I do not see it as a static document and it should be reviewed between the client and the case officer as time passes. That is the reason clients meet case officers at least once a month.
Mr. John Conlon:
In terms of whether we pay JobPath providers the initial registration fee, the signature on a personal progression plan is not of itself a trigger for the payment. What triggers the payment is whether the person is engaging with the provider. The signature on the personal progression plan can be used as evidence for that engagement, and in most cases it would be. However, whether a payment is made for registration is contingent on the person engaging with the service. In almost 99% of the cases, the signature on the personal progression plan is evidence of that, but not in 100% of the cases.
Mr. Conlon has just said that in 99% of the cases, the signature indicates engagement. Therefore, in 1% of cases it does not necessarily indicate engagement but Mr. Conlon is saying that, in practical terms, it triggers the payment.
Mr. John Conlon:
A number of questions were asked about the impact on local employment service companies. I mentioned earlier that we have reduced the ratio and are committed to working with local employment service companies to ensure they have a flow of clients. Some of the complaints that we get from local employment service companies is not because they have not enough clients but as a result of the fact that the advisers feel that the quality of some of the clients they are getting from us is not of the standard they were getting previously. We do not hear from local employment service companies saying that they are not getting enough clients.
Mr. John Conlon:
What we hear from the local employment service companies is about the quality rather than the number of clients. We are anxious for them to continue to work hard to place long-term unemployed people and to have an intensive engagement with them. That is the reason the ratios were reduced. We are committed to working with local employment service companies to continue to provide a flow of clients to them. If there are issues about the number of clients, we will work with them on that basis. What we hear about is not the number of clients, but the quality of the clients. I do not want to disrespectful of clients.
Mr. Jim Lynch:
When we are meeting JobPath returners who come back to us, one of our options is to refer them to the local employment service company. They are regularly referred to local employment service companies in Limerick. There is a constant stream of people being referred to local employment service companies and they would be JobPath returners and we would see some of those JobPath returners as the ideal clients to go to local employment service companies, where the adviser engages in intensive work in dealing with them.
Mr. John Conlon:
Ideally, it is 1:120 clients. It may fall below that in some instances but we commit to keep a flow of clients going to local employment service companies.
Deputy Brady raised the question of allegations of fraud made against some of the companies. Let me be very clear that the Department is not aware of any allegations of fraud against the contractors working with us. I think the Deputy may be referring to allegations made against Working Links, which is one of the companies linked to Turas Nua and which works with the Department. This allegation refers to an incident in the UK about ten years ago, but the Department of Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom has publicly stated that errors occurred at that time but were dealt with. We are not aware of any allegations of fraud against companies working here. In the context of Seetec, we are aware that there was alleged frauds by former staff members in the United Kingdom in 2013. I am informed, as a result of inquires made, that the Department of Work and Pensions advised the UK's Public Accounts Committee that it had investigated claims but found no wrongdoing. That is as much as I can say in that context.
Deputy Bríd Smith raised the issue of whether we should refer part-time or casual employees to the JobPath service. If a casual or part-time worker is long-term unemployed, he or she is referred to a company because he or she is underemployed. To continue to receive payments from the Department, people must continue to be available and seeking work for the days they are not working and claiming benefits from the Department. We have asked the JobPath providers to ensure that when they are working with people who are in casual or part-time employees that they focus their meetings with the clients on the days they are not working and schedule other commitments in terms of the personal adviser client relationship around the person's existing work entitlements. Our endeavour is to get them from part-time into full-time employment. That is why we refer them to the JobPath service and that they receive the supports that other long-term unemployed people also receive in terms of progressing from part-time to full-time employment. That is our objective. We do not want to keep people in part-time employment but, rather, to help move them into full-time employment.
I do not expect that Mr. Conlon has the relevant figures with him. However, will he find out how many part-time workers have been referred to JobPath? He referred earlier to 25% of people, or 36,000, who had engaged up to June 2016 and the fact that 4% of them ended up in part-time employment.
Mr. John Conlon:
I am going through my notes to address some of the other queries. A number of members asked about JobPath getting in the way of people accessing CE and Tús schemes. Our clear approach is not based on statute, but it is how we administer all of our activation schemes, namely, we do not like people being on two schemes simultaneously. We like them to continue on their current schemes before being referred to another scheme. We will make certain exceptions but, if a person is on JobPath, we will ask him or her to remain on it until that service has been completed before referring him or her to CE, Tús or other schemes, assuming the person has not entered into full-time employment.
Surely JobPath should be the last resort. If Mr. X is offered a place on a CE or Tús scheme at the same time that he is selected for JobPath, it is his preferred option, he is doing something useful and he is getting actual training instead of sitting in front of a screen every time he meets the Seetec people, surely that scheme is the better option. If the plumber up the road wants to start his own business, seeing as how there is high demand for plumbers all of a sudden to fix leaks, surely he or she should be able to get free of JobPath, but that is not possible. I cannot understand why everything is being pushed into JobPath. When the Department says that Mr. X should leave JobPath and join a Tús scheme, JobPath tells him that he cannot.
It is a year of someone's life. If people are choosing an active route to activation, be it back to education, Tús or CE, surely it is extraordinarily inappropriate to say that it has been decided that they will instead spend a year in purgatory and JobPath. I would like back to education, which is related, to be-----
I agree. Mr. Lynch stated that there is a clear path for people who, after spending a year on JobPath, would then be referred to the local employment service. Logically, though, the proper place for them in the first instance was the local employment service. A full year of the individual's time will have been wasted.
Since it is not clear, what are the exact figures for how many people are engaged with JobPath, how many have come through it and subsequently been referred to the local employment service and how many have gone on to Tús or CE scheme? That information would be useful.
Mr. John Conlon:
-----and should not be seen as that. It is a service, provided in good faith by professionals, to help the long-term unemployed return to work. I cannot for the life of me see how people can object to the State providing services that help people return to work. We do our best to ensure that people are placed on CE and Tús schemes, but when we started the JobPath service, there was a large number of long-term unemployed people who were not being activated in any shape or form.
Mr. Conlon's comment on the long-term unemployed is one that needs to be addressed. Many people have been in touch with me who have just recently become unemployed - it is a matter of weeks in some cases and a month or two in others - but who have still been referred to JobPath. It seems to have deviated from the initial concept of providing a service for the long-term unemployed.
The Deputy has made his point. A significant number of questions have been asked and some of them have been general. We have not touched on many questions yet and I am anxious that we get to them, particularly those on the cost of the service, the number of people involved and the ancillary additional cost that Deputy O'Dea mentioned in terms of what had been paid for child care and other supports. Please allow Mr. Conlon an opportunity to get through as many of the questions as possible.
Mr. John Conlon:
I am not sure where to start. Referrals to education and training formed part of a number of questions. Seetec and Turas Nua provide a range of in-house and externally delivered education and training interventions. I understand that, to the end of January, approximately 330,000 such interventions had been provided in respect of 139,000 clients. I can provide these notes to the committee afterwards. Clients can avail of more than one support. These supports are predominantly short, employment focused and internally delivered interventions provided by the contractors themselves, for example, short courses in interview skills, CV preparation, etc. As to people being referred to driver training or other such courses, I can give the committee some data on those.
Mr. John Conlon:
Regarding costs, the €84 million that has been mentioned covers registration fees and job sustainment fees. I want to be clear, in that we do not pay any money in sustainment fees unless we have proof that people are in employment after 13, 26, 39 and 52 weeks. Job sustainment is the core objective of the way we make our payments. As to whether it is value for money, time will tell, but considerable savings are made on the live register when people are not signing on. When the JobPath project finishes, we will have to measure what we have spent on it overall against savings on the live register. We will be able to provide some analysis of that following our economic evaluation later this year. We cannot do that any sooner than the third quarter because we have a large amount of data to get through. Regarding our regional performance reports to date, finding out what people are doing longitudinally has involved a significant amount of data mining. In terms of whether JobPath has worked, the longitudinal results will be the key outcome. Considerable savings are being made in live register spending once people get into work. From a value for money point of view, that will be the test of whether JobPath has been successful.
Deputy Brady asked whether we were happy that we had learned lessons from the failures in the services provided in Great Britain in the early 2000s and start of this decade. We have put a great deal of work into learning from those schemes. In so far as we could, we have contractually provided for circumstances that would avoid those. I mentioned some of them in my opening statement in terms of ensuring that contractors could not pick and choose who they got, which was one of the main problems in the UK. We refer people to JobPath; the providers do not select. We refer all long-term unemployed people. In the initial phases, 75% of those referred had been unemployed for two years plus and had received no or limited activation services from us previously. This differed from the UK where those referred to the providers were not necessarily people who had been far removed from the workforce.
We are very conscious that by doing that and taking the selection criteria away from them, we will address a lot of the issues there.
I am conscious that we are very short of time. These are questions I have already asked. When personal progression plans were discussed I had two specific questions. First, are people allowed to take the contract away, consider it and seek advice before they sign it? If so, are they advised of that? Second, can people decline to share information about their cohabitees or refuse permission to contact employers? Moreover, I have a suggestion. It would alleviate a lot of concerns if the Department was willing to publish clear guidelines on what should or should not be in a personal progression plan. For many people, this is the first time they are sitting down with such a document.
It is disappointing that Mr. Conlon just brushed over the issue of costings. He said the Department will wait until the end of this contract. Does the contract with these providers, Turas Nua and Seetec, run for five years? If that is the case, Mr. Conlon might confirm-----
The two-year period will run until 2021. Effectively, Mr. Conlon is saying that the Department will assess at that point whether the scheme is worthwhile or the cost-benefit analysis is favourable. That is totally unacceptable. Some €84 million has been spent up to now, and Mr. Conlon cannot tell us how many people have gone back into full-time employment. I thought he would have that very basic information. That is disappointing. This issue has been referred to the Committee for Public Accounts, because it is essential that the taxpayers know we are getting value for money. It is totally unacceptable for the officials to say that we have to wait until 2021 to evaluate whether or not it is of benefit to the taxpayer.
Mr. John Conlon:
I will address the last question first and then respond to Senator Higgins. The economic evaluation we are carrying out, which we will complete this year, will give us a lot of evidence on whether JobPath is working or not. That will be complete long before the end of 2019 or 2021. That is the earliest we can get it done given the amount of data we have to get through and the analysis we have to do.
Mr. John Conlon:
Senator Higgins asked about requests by JobPath providers for data about cohabitees and other personal information. There is no obligation on participants to provide personal data about cohabitants or whatever. I should say, however, that usually when a personal adviser is dealing with someone who is long-term unemployed, they talk about their overall circumstances and assess what barriers to employment there might be. That might involve conversations about other members of the household etc. However, there is no obligation to give personal details.
Mr. John Conlon:
There is no obligation, but I want to be clear. A good personal adviser should be able to get an idea of the way the person is living, their circumstances and what the barriers to employment are. That can often mean conversations about other members of the household, the difficulties they have, etc.
I want to refer to my first question. It might help the witness with all of his bits of paper and the difficulty he is having answering. I empathise with him. We are firing a hell of a lot of hard questions at him. We were told by the Chair in private session that having Seetec and Turas Nua before the committee was viewed unfavourably by the Department. Would it not be a good idea to invite them here? They could answer a lot of the questions that the witness is having difficulty in answering.
Mr. Chris Kane:
That was a conversation I had with the clerk of the committee, who put it to me that the committee wanted to invite the private companies. The view I took was that they are contracted to us to provide a service. JobPath is a service for which the Department answers. We can certainly consider whether it would be appropriate for them to answer to the committee, given that they are contractors to the Department.
Contractors have appeared before the other committees on which I sit. British Telecom has come before the Committee for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. That firm is contracted to do communications work. I think it is appropriate.
Mr. John Conlon:
I am trying to get through this blizzard. I am not sure who asked the question about consent to contact employers. There is no compulsion on people to give consent to Seetec or Turas Nua to contact employers. Such consent can be withdrawn when it is given. On the evaluation in October, it may be useful to discuss that with the committee at that stage.
A lot of questions have been asked about performance. The witness probably does not have all the figures to hand, but they would be useful. He has talked about the JobPath scheme being evaluated, and I understand that. However, there must be clear performance indicators which can be monitored on a continual basis. There must be an indication of the average cost per job etc. Does the Department have key performance indicators, KPIs, of that kind? I do not expect the witnesses to give them to us now, but I ask for them to be submitted to the committee. The Department can hardly wait several years to evaluate a scheme. That long-term evaluation is one element, but there must be continual monitoring and evaluation of the programme with reference to targets and KPIs. If those are available, I would like for them to be submitted to the committee in writing.
Mr. Chris Kane:
It is difficult to explain because of the time lag with JobPath. The initial engagement JobPath is for one year. If somebody gains employment during that year they can have in-work support for a further year, and job sustainment fees are paid. With this two-year cycle it is very difficult to take a snapshot and evaluate the state of the programme.
I will refer briefly to the overall cost, including registration fees and job sustainment fees. Given that the job sustainment fees are paid at 13-week intervals, those outgoing payments could reflect one individual and one job. It is difficult to tease that out.
The Chairman asked about metrics. The significant time lag of the published reports is because of the amount of time for which people are involved and over which the job sustainment fees are paid. The delay allows time for some service users to progress right through the service. We have other metrics that we use and report to the Department of Public Expenditure ad Reform. We can certainly look at that data and try to produce an accurate picture that is fair to the contractors. I note that we pay a lot of fees a significant period after they accrue. It is very important to us in managing the payments system that there is evidence that a service user is in full-time, sustained employment. It may take some time for the contractor to produce that evidence to the satisfaction of the Department.
There are time lags and it takes a significant amount of time to build up the information to get an accurate picture. Despite individual cases we have heard, surveys show that customer satisfaction is very high and complaints are very low, with just 500 out of 151,000. Overall, it is a positive picture.
Deputy O'Dea asked Mr. Conlon a specific question on the costs of the additional services. On page 4 it states that JobPath provides flexibility in addressing whatever barriers a jobseeker may have in seeking employment, such as child care support, travel expenses etc.
I am getting information that the types of employment people are going into include construction but employment is up across the board in that sector so people would naturally go into them even if it were not for JobPath. Is the type of employment monitored and do the results feed into the process? Are there conditions in a contract that enable a person to pull out if the KPIs are not being met? If the Department is not happy, can we pull out of a contract at any stage?
This meeting is going to conclude shortly. A number of issues have been raised to which we expect written responses. This is the first in a series of meetings and there will be other witnesses as well as, hopefully, the two companies. On conclusion, we will engage with the Department again because we do not have all the answers we want. I do not expect the witnesses to have all the answers to our questions to hand and I am quite happy to receive written responses.
I know Mr. Lynch from the JobPath scheme in Limerick and it is a good scheme but I wish to speak about unintended consequences. Community employment, CE, schemes traditionally got people on a repeat basis with new people coming on stream and coming off the live register, but they are finding it difficult to continue to have people from St. Vincent de Paul and other such organisations. Has the Department done a review in this area and how do they see it interacting with JobPath? A person who is aged 63 or 64 may not benefit from a JobPath scheme or community schemes. What are the witnesses' observations on this?
Mr. Dermot Sheridan:
We tried to have a conversation about this with people who were coming off JobPath. The earlier a person can avail of a scheme the better. If members are aware of people looking to get on CE schemes, they should advise them to declare their interest early to a case officer. We can then get the wheels in motion so that they are not picked up for JobPath. The delay is a big issue for us and we ask community organisations to identify vacancies early and match their people quickly, lest they be picked up by JobPath.
Mr. Dermot Sheridan:
The difficulty with that is that there is a significant investment in a person who is in the JobPath stream and we want them to finish. Deputy Brady said the year was wasted but we do not view it as that. We view it as an important interaction and, if they do not get something at the end of the year, then perhaps CE is suitable for them.
I thank our witnesses for attending. It has been a busy meeting and I thank them for the answers they have given. It is the intention of the committee to invite the JobPath companies to appear before us and I want the Department to work with us on the operation of the scheme. We have an interest in the area of local employment services too. It is a comprehensive piece of work and we would like the Department's help in ensuring the JobPath companies attend in a few weeks' time.
It is proposed that the proposal for a directive on transparent and predictable working conditions, COM (2017) 797, requires no further scrutiny. Is that agreed?