Dáil debates

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

JobPath Programme: Motion [Private Members]


9:20 pm

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

It is beyond belief that the Minister would attempt to make such a claim in the House.

I have always had instinctive reservations about the idea of the private sector being involved in job activation on behalf of the State, as there is obviously a conflict between the company providing the service, whose main objective is to make profit, and the needs of the individual whom the company is supposed to serve. Naturally, the profit motive takes precedence. Labour activation is a situation where the individual, particularly someone who has been long-term unemployed, should be front and centre.

Anyone who studies how JobPath has functioned for the past number of years will conclude that the pay by results, rigid, one-size-fits-all model is not working. The profit motive predominates. As a result, countless people have been forced under threat of sanction into jobs that are unsuitable, low skilled, no skilled and inappropriate. In the vast majority of cases, they are also very low paid.

I am told that what we have introduced is based on the Australian model, but the difference is that, in Australia, the relevant Department has taken great pains to ensure that the scheme is monitored and people are protected against abuse. There is no such monitoring system in Ireland. I am informed that JobPath is subcontracting out some of its work.

The arrival of JobPath on the Irish labour activation scene has been accompanied by something that is relatively new to the social welfare system, namely, sanctions. There has been an explosion of sanctions from 359 in 2015 to almost 11,200 in 2018. More than 55,000 people have been sanctioned since the arrival of JobPath. In evidence given to the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection recently, Dr. Tom Boland of WIT pointed out that those sanctions had been there but had become much more oppressive and punitive with the arrival of JobPath. When a JobPath company recommends someone for sanction, we have the totally unacceptable situation of the Department acting as a rubber stamp. It does not investigate the matter at all. Two private companies are earning loads of money from the taxpayer and effectively have the power to sanction our citizens and deprive them of all or part of their social welfare payments without the slightest intervention by the Department. That is not acceptable.

All this has been done, unfortunately, at the expense of services that were properly provided by the State. I note the Minister states in her speech that unemployment was so high in 2015 that we needed extra resources. The community employment schemes, Tús, the rural social scheme and the LES were the resources which the State had and the obvious answer was to invest properly in those resources. If the Minister did, she would have got a much better result, and more cheaply for the taxpayer, because 29% of those who go through the LES system are employed after a 12-month period whereas 9% on JobPath get employment that lasts more than a year, with all the taxpayers' money being spent on this system going into the pockets of private operators. The uplift in the economy alone would have guaranteed that 9%, if not more, would have got jobs anyway. What function exactly has JobPath performed over the past four or five years?

It is ironic that the Indecon report, which was commissioned by the Department to tell the Minister what to do now that we are in a much better situation in the labour market, made two recommendations on the LES. It recommended that the LES should now, because of the significant drop in unemployment, concentrate on the long-term unemployed. Was that not what JobPath was set up to do? This country cannot afford to have two agencies - one public and one private - concentrating on that particular sector of the unemployed. The LES can do the job perfectly well.

The Indecon report also suggests that with the drop in unemployment the resources being made available by the State to the LES should be reduced. I do not agree with that. Unemployment has dropped but underemployment is still quite considerable in this country. Many are in precarious uncertain jobs, many are not employed to their full capacity or ability, and many want to upskill. Upskilling should be a fundamental part of labour activation. We have the opposite here. We have down-skilling or de-skilling where people are trapped in these low-paid, low-skill jobs which they must take up on pain of sanction. We should continue to invest in the LES. It still has a considerable job of work to do, particularly for those on the margins. It would be perverse in the extreme if the Minister was to reduce the resources available to the LES in order to keep these two private companies in operation. That would be utterly unacceptable.

The Minister will be aware that a similar motion to the one tonight was put down in the Seanad recently and my party sought to amend it by asking the Government to do certain things to improve the operation of JobPath. We did that in an attempt to be reasonable but, apart from one change, namely, the right of somebody on JobPath to apply for a CE scheme if such was available, nothing has been done. Meanwhile, the racket continues.

I heard the correspondence that Deputy Buckley read out. I could plaster the room with such messages from all over the country which I constantly get, and they cannot be all wrong.

It is time to focus on the resources available to the State. Let them concentrate on the long-term unemployed. Let them concentrate on getting people out of precarious employment into a better type of employment. Let them concentrate on upskilling. It is time to give this particular scheme a decent burial. My party will be supporting the motion.


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