Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Question 117: To ask the Minister for Social Protection her response to the Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education review on the status of casual workers here in view of the recommendation that entitlement to jobseeker's payment should be calculated on the basis of hours worked rather than days. [28050/12]
The total of 432,907 recipients of jobseeker's allowance and jobseeker's benefit, at an estimated 2012 cost of €3.57 billion, currently includes some 80,000 casual workers. It is recognised that a changing labour market has resulted in a move away from the more traditional work patterns, with a consequent increase in the number of atypical workers. In fact many large employers have a lot of part-time workers who are also being paid by my Department. In acknowledgement of this trend, the Department conducted a review of the application of the unemployment benefit and assistance schemes conditions to workers who are not employed on a full-time basis in 2006, which examined the application of the jobseeker's benefit and allowance scheme conditions to workers who are employed on a part-time, casual or systematic short-time basis.
The review made a number of recommendations which are currently under consideration by a cross-functional departmental working group. These considerations are complex and are taking place in the context of other social welfare reforms, the current economic situation, and the considerable administrative and IT change that implementation proposals based on these recommendations will require. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education published its report, "A review of the status of casual workers in Ireland" in May 2012. The report is written in the context of the work of my Department in this area and makes a number of constructive suggestions, including a recommendation that entitlement to jobseeker's payments be based on an hourly rather than the current daily system. The content of the report will inform my Department's considerations.
The committee published its report and the rapporteur was Deputy Anthony Lawlor. It made a number of important conclusions and recommendations. I thank the Minister for considering some of the findings in the report. Does the Minister agree with the finding of the committee that the current social welfare system is decidedly unequal in that one person can work ten hours per week distributed over two days and receive an unemployment payment while others can work the same number of hours distributed over five days and be ineligible for any social welfare payment? Does the Minister accept the urgent need, given the change in the workforce, to address this inequality? How soon can we expect proposals on casual and part-time workers in line with, or taking on board some of the recommendations of, Deputy Anthony Lawlor's report?
No decision has been made in this area. The current system is unwieldy and I agree that it must be reformed. This will involve a package of structures that recognise labour market patterns and required flexibility but also protect the integrity of the jobseeker's scheme, provide incentives to employment and deliver value for money. Reform in this area is technically and administratively highly complex. As discussed earlier, we are in the process of improving many of the systems and the management of the Department's processes and administration of various schemes. Reform in the area could deliver a more flexible and responsive approach to the modern labour market but, equally, I have seen reports from one particular union on its concerns about the number of part-time workers to whom the Department is paying a social welfare income to the when, in many cases, the workers would like more work rather than more social welfare income. It is a complex area and we must try to get the best outcome so that workers have access to full-time work where available, or to more work. This will improve income dramatically above and beyond dependency on some social welfare income and some part-time work.
I accept what the Minister is saying and the matter is complex. There are ways in which the complexity will be addressed to ensure people are not benefiting where they are in part-time work and earning a substantial wage. That can be addressed through a means test. Does the Minister intend reporting in the next few months or is it an ongoing process? There is an urgency in respect of part-time and casual workers given the changes. Will we hear back by December or will it be a longer-term change?
I do not have a date for when I will come back on this matter. We have an enormously ambitious programme of reform under way in the Department. This includes the absorption of 1,000 community welfare officers and 700 former FÁS employees, as well as the business method changes referred to in earlier answers. I will not commit to a date for this change. It is an important area for trying to get the economic balance right, where the objective is to have as many people as possible in significant amounts of work, so that dependence on social welfare is lessened. I am aware of the 80,000 people working part-time. Up to a half of them would be interested in much more work and full-time work. For others, part-time work fits quite well with family responsibilities, including child care and elder care. We must have a nuanced response to the different types of people in the labour market and their different needs.