Tuesday, 21 February 2017
38. To ask the Minister for Social Protection his views on whether the best interests of jobseekers are advanced by allowing JobPath operators the right to stop jobseekers from accepting placements with, for example, the Tús initiative and other schemes, even in circumstances where they applied for such placements in advance of being selected for JobPath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8458/17]
43. To ask the Minister for Social Protection if he will re-examine the authority of JobPath operators that are able to overrule the placement offers to jobseekers on various community employment schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8457/17]
I want to ask the Minister's opinion on the disadvantage to people who are applying for Tús or CE schemes who are randomly selected by JobPath at the same time they are offered a CE scheme or Tús position and who are blocked from taking up those positions by the private operators which run JobPath. Could the Minister respond with what he thinks is in the best interests of the jobseeker?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 43 together.
Many CE schemes are run by private companies. I am not sure what the Deputy referred to. The activation supports and services which are available to those who are long-term unemployed include the JobPath employment activation service and work experience and training schemes such as CE and Tús.
The JobPath service procured by my Department provides additional resources to enable it to provide a high quality, case managed employment support service for people who are long-term unemployed and those most at risk of becoming long-term unemployed. The companies contracted to provide the JobPath service have no role or authority regarding referrals or placements for any other activation schemes or programmes such as CE.
The aim of the JobPath service, which is provided for jobseekers only, is to assist them in finding sustainable, full-time paid employment by providing intensive individual support and assistance. It is distinct from the CE scheme, which provides part-time employment and training opportunities in local communities as a stepping stone back to employment for people in receipt of a range of social welfare payments, including those in receipt of long-term unemployment payments. I should emphasise that CE does not, nor is it intended to, provide full-time sustainable employment.
Jobseekers can participate in only one activation scheme or service at a time. This is to ensure that the best use is made of the available places and to allow the scheme and service providers time to work with the participants. However, people who, on the date of their referral to JobPath, have a written offer with a start date within four weeks for CE or Tús will be facilitated to take up the placement rather than participating in JobPath.
The referral period for the JobPath service is typically for a year. At the end of the 52 weeks, jobseekers who have not been successful in finding suitable employment may, subject to an assessment by an Intreo case officer, apply for other activation supports such as CE or Tús.
I take issue with what the Minister said in respect of how we see employment schemes. Previously, he stated that job schemes are not necessarily proper employment.
I refute that because many community employment, CE, and Tús schemes are very valuable employment in the community. Tús schemes provide short-term, quality, work opportunities. They are not just training and people are not just sitting on their hands and having a great time. People are engaged in services in the environmental, caring, community, para-education, heritage and cultural areas, to describe what Tús stands for.
I have a letter about a constituent of mine. It is from an official in the Department of Social Protection in Intreo. The constituent was randomly selected for a Tús initiative in November and interviewed for a Tús placement for January, at which point he went onto a panel. He was interviewed again in January for a placement with a host company and was Garda vetted. Prior to taking up the Tús placement he was then randomly selected for JobPath. I contacted Intreo and the official got in touch with the JobPath centre to inquire if the selection for JobPath for this person could be deferred to allow the individual to take up the Tús offer. He was told "No", that this could not happen and that JobPath would not defer the offer. This is not the only case. I have had many situations like this. It needs to be investigated because it is a private company interfering with the services delivered by the Minister's Department and the advice given by the Department.
CE schemes and Tús do not constitute regular employment. It is not to say they are not valuable. They are very valuable and I have many such schemes also in my constituency. I know their value and they do involve a lot of real work. It is, however, a different thing to say the Tús scheme is real employment. It is not. It is an employment activation scheme where the State provides a form of employment for a person on a part-time basis. I know that the People Before Profit Alliance has been critical of the live register figures and the unemployment statistics produced by the Government, on the basis that it does not include people who are on CE and Tús. Even in the Deputy's own party there must be a view that it is not regular employment.
To answer the other part of the Deputy's question, we do not want people to chop and change between services and schemes. That does not work for us administratively and it is not the right way to approach labour activation. If a person is on a scheme or with a service, they should stick with that and not change to another one until they have completed it. If somebody has a start date within four weeks with CE or Tús, then they can take that up, even if they are referred to JobPath.
It is an extraordinary situation that an official employed in the Department of Social Protection makes a recommendation that a person be allowed to take up a scheme, a decision that is in the best interests of the individual, and the recommendation is overridden by a private company such as Seetec. This company receives remuneration for taking people onto JobPath. It has a vested interest in keeping people on JobPath because it gets a payment for it: a registration payment when it brings a person onto JobPath and four retrospective payments if they keep them in a job for a longer period. Seetec has a financial incentive to keep many people on JobPath, whereas the Minister's Department was looking, in this and many other cases, at the best interests of the individual. In this instance I am talking about a person who is a bit older, maybe in their 50s, and it does not always suit them to sit around waiting for interviews that JobPath might send them on for God knows what kind of jobs. Here is a valuable, local community role they could fill and the Department of Social Protection is being overridden by a private company that has vested interests.
The Minister has said that they do not want people to be using different services to get a job. We have noticed on the north side of Dublin that the local job service of our partnership seems to be used less and less by the Minister's Department, which seems to prefer the route through Seetec, a much more inflexible route. The local job service would know about local job opportunities in particular in the wider economy of the north side and not just in CE or other job activation schemes. I am not sure if the Minister finds that this is also the case with the partnerships in Blanchardstown and Fingal but it is certainly the experience we have had.
I wish to clarify that referrals are made only by my Department and through the Intreo centres. The rules are also made by my Department and the rules are that a person cannot move from one scheme or service to another. If a person has a start date, however, within four weeks for a Tús or CE placement, then he or she can take it up. We would like to move to a position where people who are unemployed would go through JobPath first, but this is still in transition. If they were unable to secure employment on their own or with the assistance of JobPath after that, then they would become eligible for CE and Tús schemes. That is what we are moving towards, but obviously there is a transition piece under way.