Dáil debates

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Other Questions

Garda Vetting of Personnel

2:55 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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65. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection if employees of companies (details supplied) who are tasked with the privatisation of the job placement role of her Department have been vetted by An Garda Síochána; and how she will ensure that these companies operate within the provisions of the Department's Customer Charter 2013-2015. [40100/15]

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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This arises from a question we dealt with earlier, namely, the State out-sourcing those who are long-term unemployed to Seetec and Turas Nua under the JobPath scheme and to ensure that all the protections that currently hold to the Department of Social Protection also hold in regard to these companies, in particular Garda vetting, data protection and any other restrictions in terms of the sensitive data they carry.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Minister, Department of Social Protection; Dublin West, Labour)
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JobPath is a new approach to employment activation and it will help support people who are long-term unemployed and those most at risk of becoming long-term unemployed to secure and sustain paid work. Following the completion of a public procurement process, two companies were selected to provide the JobPath service - Turas Nua and Seetec.

Garda vetting is typically undertaken in respect of people who work in registered organisations through which they have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults. In the case of JobPath staff, Garda vetting is not a mandatory requirement as their client base does not include such categories of people and as the work with clients is performed in a shared office with supervisors present. However, I am advised that both JobPath providers undertake background checks on prospective employees. These checks include independent verification-screening services, reference checking and, in some cases, Garda vetting.

In regard to the customer charter issue, this is referring to the Department’s Customer Charter 2013-2015 which contains a commitment to deliver a high quality service to all customers. That is why we have transformed all of the Intreo offices around the country. Deputies have complimented the Department on the changes we have made, which allow people make appointments and be treated with dignity, privacy and respect.

JobPath providers are required, under their contracts, to provide a service statement to each jobseeker that sets out the service that they can expect to receive. The service statement must contain elements that were specified by the Department including a service guarantee to ensure that all participants receive a baseline level of service and have access to a transparent complaints process. A copy of the service statement must be provided to each participant on JobPath.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Both companies will be subject to regular on-site inspections and audits to ensure that JobPath is delivered in accordance with contractual obligations and the service statement. In addition the Department will commission customer satisfaction surveys to independently assess if customers who are referred to JobPath are satisfied with the level, and quality, of service delivered by the contractors. Failure by the contractors to satisfy the Department’s inspectors or to achieve a satisfactory score in the independent survey will result in payment penalties being applied.

3:05 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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As far as I know, Turas Nua employees are Garda vetted, whereas Seetec which obviously is a private company has its own private system. The customer charter for Turas Nua does not seem to be as accessible online as the Seetec one and that should be corrected. There could be highly sensitive data about people who are long-time unemployed for a multitude of reasons. There could be a big file for each of them. For JobPath companies to properly understand the background and how to activate or help somebody, I presume they have access to some of the data held in the Department. If they are held in it, the Minister is fully responsible and takes the hit if something untoward happens. In this case two private companies, with links abroad, are tasked with encouraging, hassling or whatever else some of the long-term unemployed into finding employment. Can we be assured that the Department's current standards of data protection and sharing of information apply to these private companies?

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Minister, Department of Social Protection; Dublin West, Labour)
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Like other Deputies, the Deputy has previously complained about the Department not having enough case officers to deal with all of the people who, unfortunately, became unemployed because of the crash and who are now going back to work in large numbers. We want to ensure this opportunity is open to everybody who has become long-term unemployed. Obviously, as the numbers reduce, some of the services provided will be for the limited period of years of the contract.

Regarding the organisations mentioned, we will have a system to allow clients to refer back to the Department of Social Protection if they have issues or complaints. A system of client surveys will commence in the new year. The process of referring people to JobPath has just begun. About 3,500 people have been referred and it is an assignment for one year. I will take what the Deputy is saying into account and if issues arise, we will be happy to look at them because what is key is the quality of the service the unemployed person receives to enable him or her to get back into work. We recognise that being involved in education may be part of it.