Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Community Employment Pension Scheme: Motion [Private Members]

 

8:40 pm

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

"That Dáil Éireann:acknowledges that:
— Community Employment (CE) schemes provide much needed services in communities throughout the country, and that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is now responsible for these schemes;

CE schemes are designed to help those in long-term unemployment, who are disadvantaged or find it impossible to get mainstream work in their local communities;

— there are 25,000 citizens on schemes and they are managed and organised by 1,250 supervisors and assistant supervisors;

— the work of CE supervisors and assistant supervisors is integral to the overall success and implementation of the CE schemes;

— this pension grievance has been ongoing since the early 2000s and records show that some progress was made with the introduction of the Health Service Executive Home Help model;

— unions were informed that this model would form a basis for the CE supervisor pension issue;

— in July 2008, the Labour Court recommended that an agreed pension scheme should be introduced for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors, and that such a scheme should be adequately funded by FÁS, the funding agency responsible for CE at that time;

— FÁS attended the Labour Court hearing in 2008;

— a number of local authorities are already providing pensions to a small number of CE supervisors;

— under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, it was agreed to set up a high level forum to examine how to resolve this longstanding issue;

— the high level forum was set up, chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and it outlined the costs involved to resolve this longstanding issue in November last; and

— since late 2017, a meeting has been promised between the unions representing this small group and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, but it has yet to be arranged;
accepts that the pension issue for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors has been left unresolved for far too long; and

calls for:
— industrial action to be avoided as it will have a very negative impact on local communities;

— a resolution and a satisfactory pathway to be found to address the pension issue for the 1,250 CE supervisors and assistant supervisors, based on the Labour Court recommendation of 2008;

— the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to immediately meet with unions that represent the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors so that negotiations can commence with a view to creating a process to bring this issue to finality; and

— the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to make available, even if it is on an incremental basis, the financial resources to address this issue."

I will share time with Deputies Mary Butler, Pat The Cope Gallagher, John Curran, Sean Fleming and Robert Troy.

The community employment schemes were introduced when the country was wracked by unemployment, so much so that social cohesion was under threat. The schemes have proved to be a great panacea for the country. They have assisted individuals by giving them a sense of purpose and assisted communities in various ways which my colleagues will outline. The schemes would not have been the success they have been if they had not been manned by able supervisors. The position of community employment supervisor is one that requires a unique set of skills and vocational attachment to the job. I know many supervisors who work far beyond the call of duty. Many people in this country are in receipt of pensions from the public purse for work that is less difficult and, in some cases, less important than that done by community employment supervisors.

On 22 July 2008, the Labour Court ruled that an agreed pension scheme be introduced for community employment scheme supervisors. I must stop because not one member of the Government is present.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Is Deputy O'Dea surprised?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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We will wait for the Minister if the Deputy wishes. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, has indicated he is not taking the motion.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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Where is the Minister with responsibility for this matter?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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This is outrageous.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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We should wait until the relevant Minister arrives. I was assured the Minister with responsibility for social protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, would be here in person to take this debate.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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It is a disgrace.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is representing the Government.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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I do not accept that.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I will certainly represent the Government until the Minister's arrival.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Which Minister is responsible? Is it the Minister for Public Expenditure or Reform?

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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It is the Minister with responsibility for social protection.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy O'Dea's request that the Minister be present is reasonable.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I will be happy to represent the Government until the Minister arrives.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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As I said, we were assured that the Minister with responsibility for social protection would come to the House to listen to the debate. She is the direct line Minister and the person who understands the issues involved. I say that with all due respect to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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On a point of order-----

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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A point of order does not arise.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Leas-Cheann Comhairle interrupted me when I was speaking about rural Ireland, an issue in which the Government is not interested.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have a direct line to the Minister.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I know that.

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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There is not a single Fine Gael Deputy in the House.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I suggest Deputies walk out in protest. I am walking out in any case.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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If I may make a point of order-----

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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No, a point of order does not arise.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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It is a disgrace to think that people have travelled from all over the country to the House tonight, yet Fine Gael Deputies have seen fit not to attend a debate on a motion which Deputy O'Dea, in fairness to him, has introduced.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Please, Deputy.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Where are the Fine Gael Deputies?

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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If no one wants to speak, I will do so.

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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This is a two-hour debate, which will conclude at 10 p.m.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The debate will last for two hours.

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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Will provision be made to extend the debate beyond 10 p.m.?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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We will start the clock now.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this debate under protest because the line Minister should be here.

On 22 July 2008, the Labour Court ruled that an agreed pension scheme should be introduced for community employment supervisors and that the scheme should be funded by FÁS. It also ruled that this should be done without delay. Ten years have passed and the scheme has not been put in place. On 22 September 2009, the then line Department, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, sought clarity on a number of issues to enable FÁS to proceed with the pension scheme. A further six months elapsed and on 24 May 2010, the Department sought yet more time. Another four months elapsed and on 22 September 2010, FÁS announced it could no longer deal with the issue as responsibility for community employment schemes was moving to the Department of Social Protection. This meant the community employment supervisors and their representatives had to negotiate with that Department.

A number of further meetings took place but another nine months slipped by until 21 June 2011 when the Department sought a meeting with the representatives of the community employment supervisors, not to announce the details of their pensions but to inform them that it was seeking more time. The Department was given more time and four months later, in October 2011, it indicated it had finally decided it would not proceed to implement the Labour Court recommendation after all. It advanced two reasons for the decision, the first of which was that FÁS was not represented at or party to the Labour Court proceedings.

The Minister, her officials and everyone in the country knows there is no substance to that argument. FÁS was represented at the Labour Court hearing and I can name the two representatives of the organisation who attended if anyone wishes. They made submissions and the input of FÁS was referenced in the Labour Court decision. It is shameful, therefore, to try to get out of the matter by arguing that FÁS was not a party to the proceedings. In any case, even if FÁS had not been represented, in previous instances where matters related to community employment went to the Labour Court it was always the position, and always understood to be the position, that even though the supervisors were recognised as not being employees of FÁS, it nonetheless fell to FÁS to implement the decision of the Labour Court and fund its implementation.

As I stated, this is a rather threadbare excuse. However, not content with putting forward an excuse for inaction that had about as much credibility as Oscar Pistorius's defence, the Department decided to supplement its first excuse with a second one with even less credibility, namely, that the companies employing the supervisors did not provide pension schemes for them. In other words, community associations, GAA, handball and soccer clubs and so forth had not set up pension schemes for community employment supervisors. It may have escaped the Government's attention that the community employment aspect of the work of these clubs was funded by the State and it was illegal for any of these clubs or so-called employers to use this funding to set up a pension scheme as it was specifically allocated for salaries and some minor ancillary matters. The Government's excuse then is that because the employers of community employment supervisors did not act illegally, it cannot implement the Labour Court recommendation. If the first excuse was threadbare, the second was, frankly, mendacious.

The matter rested for four years until, in 2015, the Government facilitated the matter being further discussed under the ambit of the Lansdowne Road agreement. It accepted in principle that community employment supervisors should be entitled to a pension and established what was grandiloquently described as a high-level forum to discuss and settle the matter. The forum was set up three years ago and to date nothing has been settled. I note that in the past three years it has held a grand total of five meetings. Its members must be very high-level and busy.

In October 2017, two years after the establishment of the forum, the Minister for Finance committed the Government to the creation of a scoping system to work out the cost of all this. While the cost regarding community employment supervisors is very small, the argument was put forward that it could have knock-on effects throughout the community and voluntary sector. I do not understand that argument. There is nothing in it. All the organisations operating in the community and voluntary sector are unique, separate and distinct. This is simply about community employment supervisors, not anything else. The Government, however, seems to be saying that accepting a Labour Court recommendation to establish a pension scheme for community welfare supervisors would give rise to a whole lot of ancillary or knock-on claims throughout the voluntary and community sector. There is no reality to that. I note, however, that the Government relies heavily on the argument in its amendment to the motion. I assure the House that the motion is about community employment supervisors who, incidentally, have a Labour Court recommendation in their favour. I recall that last year when there was danger of industrial action from gardaí, the Government clung like a drowning man to a Labour Court recommendation which favoured the claim made by An Garda Síochána. The argument was that because the Labour Court was an organ of government, the Government could not go against its decision. It is refusing to implement this particular decision, however.

The motion before the House, which I urge the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to accept by withdrawing his ridiculous amendment, simply calls on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to meet immediately with unions representing community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors to permit negotiations to commence with a view to creating a process to bring this issue to finality. Given that these people have made a significant contribution to the country and been led by the nose for ten years in the expectation that they would get a pension and that the Labour Court recommendation would be honoured, it is not much to ask. I ask the House to support the motion if the Government refuses to withdraw its amendment.

8:50 pm

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil has brought forward the motion on foot of its acute cognisance of the deep sense of frustration felt by community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors in trying to secure an occupational pension. I thank Deputy O’Dea, Deputy Calleary and all my colleagues for their continuous work on the issue. Last week, community employment supervisors briefed many Deputies in the AV room on their quest for pension rights and there was staggering support from representatives from all parties and none. The issue affects every single community and county in Ireland. I welcome all the supervisors in the Gallery who have travelled from the four corners of the country to be present.

Fianna Fáil Deputies have raised this issue repeatedly with the Government and now call on it to find a resolution and satisfactory pathway to address the issue for the 1,250 supervisors and assistant supervisors on the basis of the Labour Court recommendation of 2008. We also call on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to meet immediately with the unions representing community supervisors and assistant supervisors with a view to creating a process to bring the issue to finality and making available the financial resources necessary to do so, if even on an incremental basis. We acknowledge that this is a long-running issue, but Fine Gael has been in government since 2011 and failed to deal with it. Community employment schemes are an intrinsic part of communities the length and breadth of this country and supervisors and assistant supervisors are key to their success. Unfortunately, more than 250 persons have retired since the 2008 Labour Court recommendation and supervisors and assistant supervisors are now considering industrial action on foot of the Government's inaction and failure to adequately address the issue.

The contribution of community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors and the schemes they oversee is immense. They develop a pathway to encourage people back to work, which is a fundamental aim in respect of which they have had a fantastic success rate. Their contribution to local communities includes working with sports clubs, church groups, meals on wheels, the elderly, youth education support schemes, Tidy Towns, rural development and heritage schemes. I could go on and on. The motion sets out clearly what is needed. We want to avoid industrial action at all costs. We want a resolution and satisfactory pathway to address the pension issue. We need the Minister to meet the unions as soon as possible. We need him to make available the necessary funds, even if on an incremental basis. It is high time the Government recognised the immense contribution and valuable service provided by community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors and set about resolving the issue once and for all.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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While the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is welcome and while I acknowledge that many of the questions we have asked in the past have been answered by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, it is very disappointing that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection is not here tonight. It represents a big mistake on the part of the Government to fail to recognise the role and significance of community employment schemes in all of our constituencies and the long-running issue of pension provision for the supervisors and assistant supervisors of those schemes. It is a big mistake that she is not here tonight.

There is not one Member of the House who does not have a scheme in his or her area. Apart from the beneficial effects for the individuals who participate on schemes, many activities in our communities would not survive without them. Community employment is grossly undervalued but many of the Members here tonight recognise and appreciate the services that have been provided. I acknowledge one particular group, not by name but by category. In the region of 1,000 people are on drug rehabilitation programmes on special schemes nationally. They come through very difficult and challenging times and community employment provides them with an opportunity to reintegrate into the workplace. It may be a longer path for them than for others, but I have seen at first hand that it is a real opportunity.

Behind every successful scheme are the supervisors and assistant supervisors who make it happen. I will not go back over the history lesson provided by Deputy O'Dea given the time available, but this issue has been going around for ten years. In the early years following the Labour Court recommendation, it is acknowledged that there was a recession and FÁS did not have the funding. However, we have moved on radically from that place. As Deputy O'Dea said, it was determined in the context of the Lansdowne Road agreement that a high-level forum would be established. It met five times. In my view, the high-level forum has actually been used to frustrate the process instead of to facilitate a resolution.

When I last asked about this on 30 November 2017, the Minister of State's Department replied that a meeting of the forum had taken place on Thursday, 23 November, at which the findings of the scoping exercise were shared with the members. The reply further stated that a follow-up meeting to deal with the technical questions arising from the exercise was to be arranged in the coming weeks. The problem is that the follow-up meeting has not taken place and we are now at the end of April. The forum, which should produce results and deal with the issue, has failed and it is frustrating the process. I appeal to the Minister of State to deal with this proactively. These people are entitled to have the Labour Court's recommendations implemented at this stage.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate because 25,000 people throughout the length and breadth of the country benefit from community employment schemes as either participants or supervisors. We in Fianna Fáil recognise the work of supervisors. Community employment plays a crucial role in supporting people getting back into employment and the schemes carry out invaluable work at community and local level which, over the years, the State and commercial sector have failed to do. The success of the schemes is due substantially and in large degree to the work of supervisors and assistant supervisors. The supervisor is the go-to person in the local community when one wants something done. Whether one is a member of the community or a community employment sponsor, nothing can happen without the supervisor playing that pivotal role.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have raised the issue of the failure to provide for and honour the right of supervisors to an occupational pension by way of Government funding and we will continue to do so.

We hope that as result of this debate tonight we will make substantial progress.

We all know the matter went to the Labour Court which made a recommendation. Governments of all descriptions, time and time again, have always respected the State's industrial dispute resolution mechanisms. It is wrong of this Government to ignore the Labour Court when it expects everyone else to adhere to its recommendations. The Government must honour the institutions of the State and not undermine them by refusing to do so.

As a result of that recommendation, the Estimates voted in this Chamber for several years in a row provided for €10 million to be made available through FÁS. However, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection did not implement it. As a result, on both occasions those moneys were handed back to the Department of Finance. At this stage, it is in the hands of the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform to bring back the moneys previously voted in this House for this scheme. There is no point in any high-level review unless there is an agreement from the Minister to provide funding to deliver this. Above all, I want the Government to do that before the next budget as part of pay and pension restoration for people who work in the public good.

I thank all those who travelled the length and breadth of the country to be in the Visitors Gallery tonight. We are delighted to have such a large group here. We want to work with them to deliver this. We are asking the Minister of State to do the same.

9:00 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I am delighted to participate in this debate. I am familiar with the issues as a result of numerous meetings I have had with community employment scheme supervisors and assistant supervisors in County Donegal. Donegal is just a microcosm of the rest of the country. We are here to support all of those who have done so much in supervising community employment schemes. The value of their input is difficult to quantify. It goes to millions of euro.

What is at stake is simple. It is an occupational pension for those who worked to keep the schemes going. This matter has been ongoing since 2008 and we are all familiar with the Labour Court decision. When the Taoiseach was Minister for Social Protection, he met community employment supervisors in Donegal when he was on the campaign trail 12 months ago. He felt the recommendation of the Labour Court should be implemented. The Taoiseach is in a senior and influential position now but nothing has been done about it.

Will the Minister ensure the Labour Court recommendation is implemented? Our calculations are that about €3.3 million is involved. That is the commitment required from the Government. We have had many false dawns. We have had many promises. I recall Ministers committing privately to this but, when it comes to a Government decision, they then take a different view. The supervisors are employed by the company but by the same token, if there is a will, the Government can change this overnight. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, together with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection can accept the Fianna Fáil motion tonight. By doing so, they would be rewarding these supervisors. Many of them have retired and they have to be taken into consideration as well.

Photo of Robert TroyRobert Troy (Longford-Westmeath, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak, although briefly, on this motion. I welcome the community employment scheme supervisors to the Gallery and thank them for the invaluable work they are doing in our communities. Community employment scheme participants provide an invaluable service in our communities, whether its through GAA clubs, Tidy Towns, childcare and so forth. The schemes face significant challenges, however. They have had their resources cut and they are finding it harder to recruit participants because of changes introduced by the previous Government. The Government does not acknowledge the great work these community schemes have done. The 1,200 supervisors motivate and encourage the scheme's participants to ensure our communities get this service.

Over ten years ago, the Labour Court made a recommendation that a pension should be introduced for community employment scheme supervisors. However, ten years on they are still waiting. They have demonstrated their community ethos through the very patience they have displayed over the past ten years.

Time and time again, the Government cites that it needs to refer matters to the Labour Court because it is the independent mechanism to adjudicate on disputes between the State and the people who work for the State. If so, why after ten years, has it failed to implement the recommendations in question? The Government must work with this side of the House, accept the Labour Court recommendation and give those supervisors in the Gallery what they are due.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “integral to the overall success and implementation of the CE schemes” and substitute the following:“— in July 2008, the Labour Court recommended that an agreed pension scheme should be introduced for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors;

— the employees in question are, or were, employees of private companies and have not made a pension contribution, notwithstanding the fact that the companies concerned are, or were, reliant on State funding;

— a high level forum comprising trade unions and Government departments and agencies was established to discuss certain issues pertaining to the community and voluntary sector and these discussions have included the issues arising from the 2008 Labour Court recommendation;

— any consideration of this matter must have regard to the costs and precedent of such an arrangement were one to be created, particularly in light of the large size of the community and voluntary sector in Ireland;

— in this regard, a detailed scoping exercise was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) on the potential costs of providing exchequer support for the establishment of such a pension scheme for employees across the community and voluntary sector in Ireland;

— this exercise shows that this matter presents very significant issues for the exchequer, with a potential cost to the State of €188 million per annum in respect of funding to enable an employer pension contribution in State funded community and voluntary organisations, excluding any provision for immediate ex-gratia lump sum payment of pension as sought (which could, depending on the size of the sector, entail a further exchequer cost of up to €318 million);

— while CE supervisors and assistant supervisors represent only a part of the wider community and voluntary sector, any provision of State funding for such a scheme in respect of those employees could potentially give rise to claims for similar schemes on the part of those in the broader sector, thus crystallising the potential level of liability mentioned; and

— accordingly, any solution to this issue will require careful consideration, must have regard for all community and voluntary sector employees and the implications for scarce exchequer resources.”I wish to share time with Deputy Fitzpatrick. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection who are unable to be here tonight. I am, therefore, taking this matter on their behalf.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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That is a poor show.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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The commitment, dedication and hard work of community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors, who are employees of organisations in the community and voluntary sector, is greatly appreciated. These organisations deliver much-needed support services at community level to users every day throughout the year.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection assumed responsibility for the community employment programme from FÁS in January 2012. Community employment schemes are typically sponsored by voluntary and community organisations wishing to benefit the local community. As the employers, these sponsoring organisations contract with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on an annual basis to provide jobseekers, as well as other vulnerable groups, with good quality work experience and training qualifications to support their progression into employment. Community employment participants work an average of 19.5 hours per week. Virtually all participants are engaged in some element of service support and delivery such as amenities management, arts and culture, sports, Tidy Towns, childcare and health-related services.

Since 2012, the community employment scheme has been subject to major programme changes which have resulted in significant savings, greater accountability by sponsoring organisations and improved oversight by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. In July 2008, IMPACT and SIPTU brought a claim to the Labour Court seeking Exchequer-funded pension provision for community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors. The outcome was a Labour Court recommendation that FÁS, as the recognised funding agency, should fund the pension provision. On this recommendation, the position has always been that neither FÁS nor the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection are the employer. Accordingly, it is not possible for the State to provide funding for such a scheme to employees of private companies, even if those companies are, or were, reliant on State funding.

The community sector high-level forum, reinstated in 2015, includes representatives of various Departments, statutory agencies and union representatives. The forum is chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Membership includes the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Health, Education and Skills, and Housing, Planning and Local Government, along with Pobal and IMPACT and SIPTU, the two unions which represent the community employment scheme supervisors and assistant supervisors. This forum has since met on several occasions.

At a meeting in April 2017, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform outlined its intention to conduct a detailed scoping exercise to comprehensively examine and assess the full potential implications of the issues under consideration. A detailed scoping exercise was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service, IGEES, on the potential costs of providing Exchequer support for the establishment of such a pension scheme for employees across the community and voluntary sector.

The exercise clearly illustrated that this matter presents very significant issues for the Exchequer, with a potential cost to the State of €188 million per annum in respect of funding to enable an employer pension contribution in State-funded community and voluntary organisations, excluding any provision for immediate ex gratia lump sum payment of pension as sought, which could, depending on the size of the sector, entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million. As previously stated however, community employment supervisors are employees of private companies and are not employed by the State, notwithstanding the fact that the companies concerned are, or were, reliant on State funding.

9:10 pm

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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They are not companies. They are GAA clubs.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It must also be emphasised that while the issue at hand relates to community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors -----

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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They are not companies. The Minister of State should correct that.

Photo of Frank O'RourkeFrank O'Rourke (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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Please, Deputies.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----such individuals comprise just one small group within the wider community and voluntary sector and any provision of State funding for such a scheme in respect of those employees could potentially give rise to claims for similar schemes on the part of those in the broader sector, thus crystallising the potential level of liability that I have highlighted. It is therefore the case that, notwithstanding the existence of the 2008 Labour Court recommendation, the question of pension provision for employees of private organisations in the community and voluntary sector is one which is of relevance to a potentially very large number of individuals, far greater than only community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors. Accordingly, any solution to this issue will require careful consideration, must have regard for all community and voluntary sector employees and the implications for scarce Exchequer resources -----

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Disgraceful.

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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-----particularly in light of the large size of the community and voluntary sector in Ireland. It is for these reasons that we are moving this amendment to the motion.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies, please. I call Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick who has four minutes.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Many people believe that community employment schemes are very much linked to the economic state of the country. Generally, when the economy is flourishing, the need for community employment schemes is less evident, while the opposite is true in times of recession when these schemes become hugely important for many members of local communities. While unemployment impacts on people of all ages, in recent years when technology has become so relevant and important to so many industries, people of a certain vintage are more often than not finding it difficult to match their skills or lack thereof, to the needs of potential employers.

While the younger generation have the potential to seek out the appropriate training to upskill themselves to meet the needs of those potential employers, more mature people often find themselves unable to bridge the technology gap. As the country experiences an economic revival and renewed growth, many of this mature group redirect their skills to their locality and the opportunities provided by the local community employment scheme. This is evident in the mid-Louth community employment scheme, which caters for a large rural area and, with the benefits of the recently introduced new categories, has become an excellent opportunity for those unemployed mature people to use their skills for the benefit of the local area. It is vital that this employment opportunity continues and hopefully expands.

In addition to the satisfaction experienced by the community employment scheme workers, the benefits to the rural areas where the schemes exist is evident to all, including local residents and the ever-increasing number of tourists who visit. The national Tidy Towns competition has been and continues to be a wonderful example of the improvement that is evident throughout the country. The backbone and major contributor to this movement is the local community employment scheme working hand in hand with the Tidy Towns volunteers. In the mid-Louth community employment scheme, the village of Tallanstown is a prime example of the opportunities presented by the co-operation between CE workers and local volunteers when after almost 30 years of endeavour, Tallanstown was honoured by winning the national Tidy Towns title in 2010.

We hear about the problems associated with data protection almost daily and the need for all organisations to put in place a suitable policy to protect this data. Community employment schemes are not exempt from this. The larger schemes hold various information and personal data on their employees. Scheme secretaries play a vital role in the protection and maintenance of this data and at present these important employees could potentially be replaced annually. It is very important that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection evaluate this situation and look at the implications of providing a considerably longer term of employment or perhaps permanency to some of these secretaries, particularly those working in larger schemes. This change could be reviewed in conjunction with the possibility of giving recognition to the Trojan work undertaken on a voluntary basis by many sponsors in keeping theses schemes in operation. Perhaps a process could be put in place where these hardworking sponsors could be rewarded, particularly on the larger schemes, by allowing them have “a chosen employee” - one might call it something else - who might be, say, a person who is of vital importance to the scheme, such as a scheme secretary or a scheme employee who regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty and who is an example for others to follow. While many see this as problematic, it is a suggestion that I hope might be given further consideration and that all concerned can create an opportunity for discussion to further develop this possibility.

We all agree that CE supervisors and assistant supervisors are not public service grades but are employees of community employment schemes funded through Exchequer grant aid. As the Minister of State noted, a detailed scoping exercise was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service on the potential cost of providing Exchequer support to establish a pension scheme for employees across the community sector. This exercise found that there was a potential cost to the State of €188 million annually.

The community employment scheme is a wonderful scheme. I am a firm believer that people who work hard deserve what they get. I believe that CE supervisors and assistant supervisors deserve to have a pension put in place. I will fight hard with the Minister to work on that.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has exceeded his time.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Fine Gael)
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They do Trojan work in the community. I will give them as much support as I can.

Photo of John BradyJohn Brady (Wicklow, Sinn Fein)
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Community employment plays a vital role in towns and villages across the State and has done so since it was first established in 1994. Its two-strand approach makes it unique compared with all other schemes, providing individuals with employment and training while providing much-needed services to the community at the same time. Often they are services that would not otherwise be available. I commend everyone who has made the effort to come here this evening, the supervisors and assistants, to listen to this crucial debate.

CE schemes work along with important organisations such as Enable Ireland, the Simon Communities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Tidy Towns groups the length and breadth of the State, the Cope Foundation, the Brothers of Charity and many others. CE participants are the people who deliver meals to elderly citizens in their homes, they are the people who care for young and old people with disabilities, getting them in and out of bed, dressing them and preparing their meals. They are the people who drive the elderly into town to collect their pension, do their shopping or allow them to visit the doctor. They are the people who look after our young people in creches and after-school clubs. They take care of local sporting grounds, maintaining them so that others can enjoy them. These are the very people to whom this Government is denying a pension, despite the knowledge that without CE supervisors and assistant supervisors these services would not exist and our whole communities would suffer.

There are cases of people who have been CE supervisors and assistant supervisors for 20 and 30 years. I have spoken to many of them here this evening. They are watching this debate in the Gallery and in the AV room, and some are outside the front gates of Leinster House on Kildare Street. Despite their years of commitment, they are being denied a pension by this Government.

These people have given their entire working lives to CE schemes, to the benefit of communities they serve. It is really unfortunate that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, could not come to this Chamber this evening to look the very people who provide this essential service throughout the State in the eyes and tell them that they are digging in their heels. They have tabled an amendment to this critical motion to ensure the Government will do nothing.

That is absolutely despicable. The 2008 Labour Court recommendation which ordered that an agreed pension scheme should be put in place for community employment, CE, supervisors and assistant supervisors has unfortunately been ignored by Fine Gael, the Labour Party and, indeed, Fianna Fáil. In 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 they unfortunately chose not to implement the recommendations. Here we are almost ten years later. We are supposedly in economic recovery, but this recovery has not been felt by CE supervisors and assistant supervisors. That needs to happen. The Government needs to recognise the valuable work carried out by CE schemes across this State. If the Government is genuine in its compliments - and compliments is all they are, not substance - we need it to follow through. We need it to put this pension scheme in place. We also need it to withdraw its amendment, to stop digging its heels in and to give our supervisors the pensions they deserve for the phenomenal work they are doing in managing these schemes across the length and breadth of the State.

9:20 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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We will be supporting this motion. It is a shame on this and previous Governments, as Deputy Brady has outlined, that this has dragged on for so many years. It is absolutely appalling that it has been let get to this situation. I do not think there is any other category of workers in the public or private sector that would be treated as contemptuously as this in respect of its pension rights. The Minister of State has adverted to the community and voluntary sector generally. There are obviously key differences in that the direct paymaster for these schemes is the State. The Minister of State has to recognise that these are people who have given years and years of work to their communities and to their projects. I submit that very many of these people could have found much better paid employment but decided not to on the basis of their commitment to the projects and what they are involved in. We are leaving them in a situation in which many of them will find it very hard to make ends meet at the point of retirement and may consider their options in the future. It is vitally important that this is addressed early. It is important that those who have retired in recent years are redressed and that those who are retiring in the next two or three years are not forgotten. They may have difficulty in building up stamps.

Before I finish, it is worth saying that this comes in the context of the view which I and many others have, which is that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection does not believe in CE anymore and that it is undermining community employment. The Department has lost sight of CE's original purpose and wants to hive it off to things like JobPath and Tús and not to have it on its books any longer. This pensions issue is directly related to that agenda. To sum up, these people have been treated shamelessly. It is time to bring that to an end and to resolve this issue.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Again, we will be supporting the motion tonight. The reality is that we should not be here at all. That is very clear. There should not have been a Labour Court recommendation. The Government should have dealt with this in the very beginning. From the very outset, when the CE schemes were set up and the whole process was put in place, the supervisors and the people who worked on those schemes should have been provided with a pension. To say it goes back ten years is quite incorrect. It actually goes back much further than that because to bring it to the Labour Court the unions obviously had to have been advocating for some time and seeking justice for the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors. The reality is that if it goes back 15 years, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael share almost equal blame in respect of this issue. That needs to be acknowledged. The fact of the matter is that we have people in the Gallery looking for something which they should have gotten as a right as employees from the day they commenced their employment. They should not be coming here 15 or 20 years after starting work looking for it.

It is also the fact that we are in a situation where, as was mentioned earlier, there are people in government who have very great power in respect of this matter. The reality is that we have power on both sides of the Chamber this evening because we have a confidence and supply arrangement which keeps the Government in place. If there was this sense of outrage in respect of these particular workers, or indeed any other workers in this State, we would not be in this position today. We would not be coming here talking about very small numbers of workers who are trying to get their rights vindicated.

The Minister of State mentioned that resolving this issue would somehow or other open the floodgates and that there would be a whole other sector of workers in the community and voluntary sectors that would possibly be looking to get pensions because of it. The trade unions have been quite explicit and clear in this regard. The situation for the community employment workers is very clear and very specific. It is on those specific issues that this needs to be addressed. The Labour Court was very clear that this recommendation dealt with the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors. To reiterate the point made a few minutes ago, it is also clear to anyone who looks at this situation that community employment has been under attack and has been subject to cuts, revision, restructuring and everything else that could be found for the last ten to 15 years in order to put it into the ground and shift it to one side. That is a reality which the people in the Gallery, the people who are working on community employment schemes, and those trying to get on them up and down the length and breadth of the country are absolutely aware of. It is scandalous that this Government is refusing to vindicate the rights of these workers. It is a great shame not just on this Government but on previous Governments that we are here this evening at all.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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To reiterate Deputy Kenny's point, none of us should be here. More importantly, hard-working CE supervisors should not have to take time away from their families to travel up to the Dáil to listen to this debate. As all the Deputies who have spoken from the Opposition benches have made clear, we are here because we have a Labour Court recommendation which explicitly sets out what the Government should be doing. It is not just that people should have gotten this by right, but particularly after funding was allocated, although it was not spent, from 2009, people took up positions as CE supervisors and assistant supervisors with the reasonable expectation that those pension claims would be met. More importantly, if this issue is not resolved CE supervisors and assistant supervisors will face a real future of financial hardship, and in some cases poverty, in retirement because of the failure of the Government.

The Minister of State is absolutely wrong in the figures he is quoting. The actual cost of resolving this issue according to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, earlier this year is approximately €6 million annually and a one-off payment of approximately €19.2 million. That is the cost. In the context of the enlarged fiscal space which is available to Government next year, there is simply no reason not to resolve this issue. It is disingenuous to quote the figures that were mentioned.

Not only is it disappointing that neither of the lead Ministers is here, but the fact that the Government seems to be digging its heels in is deeply worrying. If this motion passes when we vote on it on Thursday, which I expect it will, the Government needs to listen very clearly. It needs to go back to Cabinet and agree to meet the unions and the CE supervisors as a matter of urgency in order to resolve the issue. In conclusion, not only should the Government resolve this, but it should start to reverse the decade long assault on community schemes because they do huge work in communities and with people in desperate need of those schemes. That would be a good place to start.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors who are here with us. I commend them all for their patience. Nobody could dispute that they have indeed been very patient with this process. As a former trade union official, I would say to them that the Labour Court should be the end of the line. It is the last place to which one goes. It should be the place where, if one wins, one actually wins. These people won in the Labour Court. The difficulty for them is that the Fine Gael Government refuses to acknowledge the third party mechanisms of the State, as did Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party when previously in government. What does that say to every other worker outside of here? The Government is very fond of telling people to take disputes to the Labour Court. What should they do then? Should they win and wait ten years? This has been going on for the ten years since the Labour Court recommendation. The Minister of State said that "[a]ccordingly, any solution to this issue will require careful consideration". Well the Government has now had ten years. Has it considered it carefully enough? It is actually a very simple Labour Court recommendation. Sometimes they go on for pages, but this is a very simple one. These people have the right to a pension. I am acutely aware that every single one of us in here has a pension. That is all these people are here to get - a pension. They believe they are entitled to a pension. The Labour Court has backed that entitlement.

The Government should withdraw its disgraceful amendment. I echo what my colleagues have said, namely, it is a disgrace that the lead Minister is not here to answer the case. These people are only seeking a pension they won in the Labour Court, part of the third-party machinery of this State, to which the Minister of State and Members who sit on the benches opposite tell workers to go time and time again. The Minister of State is sending a message to workers in this State that the Labour Court can be disregarded, and that message will be heard by unscrupulous employers. Does he want to join them?

9:30 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I welcome all the people from Galway and Roscommon and indeed different parts of the country who have travelled here tonight. It is a sad day that people must come here to fight for their rights. Listening earlier, I heard about the forum that is going on. It should just be abandoned because all it is is a charade. We need to get conclusions out of this and sort it out once and for all.

I am looking across the Chamber at the Fianna Fáil Members. Within the next six months, they will have an opportunity when the budget is being prepared to put the gun to the head. That is the way politics is done here. Fianna Fáil Members should forget about forums and labour courts and just tell the Government the budget will not go through, which would lead to an election, if it does not pass this once and for all, and by God it would start listening then. That is the only way to solve this.

Furthermore, there are people right around the country looking after Tidy Towns and there are people being sent off schemes and not having them renewed. We cannot get people to administer the schemes. I met the Minister before Christmas and she said she thinks the Government will get this resolved in the new year. The new year is coming, we are landed into summer and she is still telling me it will happen. The reality is that there are towns struggling to get people into these schemes. People over the age of 55 should be left on the schemes to ensure that the great work they are doing is kept going.

All I am saying is that the talking is over; action is what is needed. I am sure two people from Fianna Fáil, including Deputy Calleary, a good Mayo man, will go in and fight the battle and come out with a result because that is the way it works and that is the way we need to get answers.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome and fully support the motion. Since the commencement of the community employment programme in 1994, the scheme has provided fruitful employment and skills acquisition to tens of thousands of long-term unemployed across this State, the vast majority of whom have progressed to both mainstream and self-employment. The social benefit of the work undertaken has been reaped by thousands of communities across the State. The legal and fiscal relationship between CE supervisors and the State is no different from that of many public sector workers contracted by intermediary bodies. Failure to fund pensions for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors renders the State complicit in an evasion of its fiscal obligations and in the deprivation of employment rights to a de factopublic service sector. The work of many CE scheme supervisors and assistant supervisors has clearly gone unappreciated and undervalued by this Government. These supervisors deserve respect and fair play. That is all they are asking for. They have waited too long for the pension entitlements that are their due. It is high time the Government get up off its feet and delivered on these entitlements.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I indicate on behalf of the Labour Party that we will support unambiguously tonight's motion. I welcome the supervisors and assistant supervisors and their trade union representatives to the Gallery. We met some of them earlier.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to contribute to this debate on the plight of CE supervisors and assistant supervisors who, notwithstanding the court hearing on 11 July 2008, have been denied the import of the recommendation of 22 July 2008 by Raymond McGee, which took into account the comprehensive submissions made by the unions on behalf of the supervisors and assistant supervisors of CE schemes and a submission from FÁS, as the funding agency for the CE schemes. They recommended that an agreed pension scheme be introduced for the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors.

One of the important aspects which compelled the Labour Court to bring forward this recommendation was the fact that the public service benchmarking body in December 2007 did not provide a pay increase to the majority of public servants because of the value placed on public service pensions. This gave rise to a fundamentally iniquitous situation whereby supervisors and assistant supervisors of CE schemes did not receive pay increases to which they were entitled because they had no pensions. They were told they had pensions and, as a result, were not given any pay increases so they were effectively double-whammied by the State. The consequences of these decisions remain current and relevant to date. The Labour Court recommended that a pension scheme be adequately funded by what was then FÁS, as the recognised funding agency, and exhorted the parties to engage without delay to achieve this objective and that no adverse consequences for workers' employment should arise.

We are all aware of the importance of CE schemes throughout the country and the key role they play in environmental enhancement and refurbishment in towns and villages. They also help disadvantaged people and those in long-term unemployment to gain work and training in their local communities as a stepping stone to achieving regular work. I am aware of this happening through a scheme operating in my own village and of one young man recently securing full-time employment. We see the results of the work input of CE schemes in the provision of much-needed community services, such as: crèches and meals on wheels; the upkeep of community halls and facilities and GAA and soccer pitches; Tidy Towns supports; and the maintenance of green areas.

Critical to the success and smooth functioning of CE schemes are the 1,200 or so supervisors and their assistant supervisors who manage all these local projects daily and ensure the objectives of the schemes are achieved. This involves a wealth of bookkeeping, record-keeping and general management expertise and the implementation of various legislative requirements in health and safety, so it is a very challenging and responsible role.

Since the 2008 Labour Court recommendation, approximately 300 or more supervisors and assistant supervisors have retired. Never mind the fact that they did not get to go on a pension; they did not receive a red cent, not even an ex gratiapayment to acknowledge their invaluable contributions. Many have retired to rely on the old age pension. This could mean a drop in income of approximately €450 for some. It is a shattering experience for any employee to experience at that stage of his or her life. One cannot but argue that these supervisors and their trade union representatives have been extremely tolerant, responsible and patient for the best part of a decade.

Some of my colleagues in the Chamber might not understand this, but my colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, together with the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, actually brought forward a scheme to deal with this. It was called the community sector redundancy supports fund, and €1 million was provided for it as a head. This was at the end of 2015. There was going to be an amendment to a local government Bill to ensure it was put on a statutory footing because the Attorney General, I understood, had recommended it had to be on a statutory footing. That was the ideal way to deal with the matter.

I think Deputy Calleary understood that Jack Wall, Jack O'Connor, Patricia King and others were involved in this. He recognised that here in October, when we debated this matter. It was tremendous, and a satisfactory and workable solution was given. Everyone knows that it took into account a number of factors involved, including the cost and precedential value of implementing such an arrangement for the public sector. However, it now appears to me, and indeed my Labour Party colleagues, that this has turned into a war of attrition. More and more people will have retired or passed away and their families will be left close to a state of impoverishment if this is not resolved.

In November 2017, a report was prepared by the Minister of State's Department which calculated the precise cost implications arising from the claim for pension provision for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors. Deputy Ó Broin has referred to the correct figures in this regard. It would cost approximately €25 million to include the ex gratiapayment. I speak to people in Lanesboro, such as John Farrell, who would be happy to get a few bob to retire on an ex gratiabasis. The Minister of State is not dealing with fools; he is dealing with very intelligent people who are operating schemes on behalf of the State. They realise that if they have five or six years left, they will not get a full pension. They are dealing with an ex gratiasituation, which is what was agreed. Some of them are prepared to contribute to a scheme so as to ensure that in the future, supervisors will have a proper scheme that is properly financed by the State and with input from themselves.

This is an opportunity to grab this ball once and for all and to bring the curtain down on a saga that does not do any credit to anyone. We have arrived at a situation whereby there has been no willingness or effort to address the issues, leading to an incredible level of frustration, which was evident last Wednesday in the AV room, where supervisors from all over the country addressed Members of the Oireachtas. They are here again tonight. I cannot understand why this cannot be looked at. The Labour Court is an important vehicle in the armoury of industrial relations, and we all at some stage in this House, as colleagues have said, have advocated the sanctity and importance of adhering to recommendations and outcomes that derive from the State's industrial apparatus and we have respected the rulings emanating from the independent industrial relations of last resort to the State.

It is high time to end the current impasse. The Minister of State can do so, and the pilot way of doing so is set forward. It was brought in a Government memorandum by Ministers. Therefore, it is lying there; all it takes is political will. There are a set number of people involved and they have a Labour Court recommendation which distinguishes them from any other group. If any other group gets a Labour Court recommendation, it will be prospective. This is retrospective and deals with those affected going forward as well. It is a defined group, so there is no excuse for any further delay.

9:40 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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9 o’clock

I welcome all the community employment supervisors, many of whom I have met, particularly my colleagues in Tipperary, of whom a huge number are here. I acknowledge the work of SIPTU and Eddie Mullins in particular. It was acknowledged that this issue has been sorted. I look at the Fine Gael benches and the low number of people who have turned up, in fairness to the couple of people who have turned up, and there is an unwillingness to sort out this issue. The memorandum for Government is done and this is it in my hand. It is completed. I know because it was done through me and the then Minister, Deputy Howlin. The funding stream has been set aside. The administrator of this, with whom discussions took place, was Pobal. It is all in place. I have to admit I was committed to doing this. It was left like that for the Government to implement and why it has not been implemented two years later says more to me about the Government and its priorities than it does about anybody else.

It is very simple to implement it. There is a legislative basis under a local government miscellaneous provisions Act and there is a provision put aside by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which was done following negotiations with Deputy Howlin at the time. Please act on it. There was also a letter to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, from SIPTU in September 2016 which outlines that there is a precedent from the ex gratiapayments made to workers made redundant under the local community and development programme, LCDP, which was terminated and became the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP.

We have a legislative process, if necessary following legal advice from the Attorney General, we have the funding put aside and we have a precedent. Everything is in place except the willingness to implement the work done. Look at the impact of all of the supervisors here, and all of those in the AV room and around the building because they cannot fit in the Gallery, on a range of schemes and lives throughout Ireland and think about this as a Government. Think about the impact they have had and could have on the Government if it does not implement this and do what is right. Everything is provided for. It is a Labour Court recommendation, so please do the right thing by these people who are all here.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Beidh an Teachta Maureen O'Sullivan anseo freisin. I support the motion and I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling it. I have no hesitation in supporting it. I ask the Minister of State to withdraw the amendment because it does not make sense on any level. It is an embarrassment to read with its reference to careful consideration, and this, as has been said, after ten years. I certainly would not like to be in the position of the Minister of State, having to read a reply that tells us we will have careful consideration or a reply that mentions an amendment about private companies. It is most disingenuous to talk about companies when communities are forced to set them up by Government policy and are then blamed for not paying pensions.

I want to read out something presented to us at the Committee of Public Accounts by the Department of Finance. The Government is talking about a time of straitened finances at present, but in his opening statement to the committee the Secretary General of the Department of Finance told us:

The robust pace of recovery in the economy continued in 2017, with GDP increasing by 7.8%. The increase in economic activity is broadly based and the economic fundamentals are strong. Ireland has been one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union in the past four years.

I could quote much from it but my final quote is that he said the "[k]ey economic indicators point to continued solid growth this year". This is what the Department of Finance is telling us. This is the time to ask how we make up for the lapse of ten years and how we give a pension. We will never do it if we do not do it now.

We have all received representations on this matter, in my case by email and on the ground in my constituency in Galway. On top of this, we receive urgent representations all the time with regard to two other matters. These are from people desperately trying to get onto community employment schemes who cannot do so, and with regard to the difficulty posed by the Government schemes of Seetec and Turas Nua, which prevent people going on community employment schemes.

This ties in with the amendment because the Government seems to know the value of nothing based on what it does put a value on. The amendment mentions careful consideration, the high-level forum established and a scoping exercise that was carried out with input from the Irish Government Economic Evaluation Service on the potential costs. What struck me immediately was reference to potential costs. What about the value of what community employment schemes do for all of our communities? Did the Government ever think about putting a value on this or even doing a scoping exercise on it to see the millions being saved to the Government by these schemes and by the supervisors who are an integral part of them? It might be a bad example but, as with a good teacher in a classroom, without a good supervisor we will not have people coming out of these courses with dignity. This is what the community employment scheme is all about. It is about dignity and providing opportunities for people who are not disadvantaged but whom the system has disadvantaged by failing them. On the other side of it are the advantages for the community.

I ask the Government to see a little bit of sense and withdraw this nonsensical amendment. It is an embarrassment and does not do anything for the Government. It does not make sense given the statement from the Department of Finance and it certainly does not make sense from the point of view of the communities. Try a scoping exercise on the value of the community employment schemes to this country and the money they save.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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While the motion is on a particular issue relating to pensions for supervisors and assistant supervisors, I will make some general points. My involvement in community employment began in the days of AnCO, quite a long time ago in the 1970s. I did voluntary work with two organisations, namely, the youth centre at St. Mary's youth club in East Wall and the Cavan Centre outside Ballyjamesduff. I can state that the employment schemes provided by AnCO at the time and later had a massive impact. The youth club had funding to build the frame of the centre but it was people on the employment schemes who did all of the work inside, including the painting and decorating. It was the same at the Cavan Centre. Today it relies on community employment schemes for essential physical work and maintenance that allows it to provide a space for holidays and weekends for training, respite and outdoors pursuits. This is being provided primarily for those who come from disadvantaged areas. I know the effect of the feud on the constituency I represent and how invaluable the centre has been to give that respite to families.

As well as what the schemes provide for the organisations they also provide training for the participants that will help them to move on to employment when their time on the scheme has ended. Participants were facilitated in doing courses. For some people, their time on the scheme finished before their course finished so an appeal had to be made. Some of those appeals were successful and others were not. It was always very disappointing to see people who had put so much into their course who had to finish on the scheme before the final qualification.

In more recent times, the loss of the double payment had a very detrimental effect on the schemes I know in Dublin Central. Some of those schemes relied on community employment to provide essential services, especially those involved in childcare. They provided childcare in areas of significant disadvantage. The schemes found themselves without enough participants so the childcare service they had been providing could not continue to do its work and the service was reduced.

I want to mention special drug rehabilitation community employment schemes, which have been of great support to those in recovery. They need greater flexibility regarding duration for those with addiction issues and for those with mental health issues. Sometimes it can take two years to get the person on the scheme ready for the scheme itself. This is where the flexibility is needed.

Being nice about it, the schemes are a very cost-effective way of providing services. Being truthful, they are a very cheap way to provide services and, without them, many communities will be left in very difficult situations.

The skills and work of the supervisor and the assistant supervisor are vital to the success of the schemes, particularly those that are especially challenging.

I was looking at Fianna Fáil's motion. The pension issue has not been addressed and has been ongoing since the early 2000s. We had the Labour Court agreement in 2008, but the work of high-level forum did not progress. When I look at the motion, I hope that, at the very least, the Government will immediately accept the first three points in the hope that by realising these three aspects, it would lead to a resolution of the fourth aspect because not doing so could have negative effects. It could lead to industrial action and there is no community, rural or urban, that would not be affected such is the significance of the community employment scheme.

9:50 pm

Photo of Noel GrealishNoel Grealish (Galway West, Independent)
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I welcome all of the supervisors and assistant supervisors who have travelled here from all over the country. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to and support this important motion. I want the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, to correct the record of the House. He clearly said supervisors and assistant supervisors were employed by private companies. It should be made clear that they are not. They work for charitable organisations and supporting groups. As chairman of my local hurling club, I see at first hand the invaluable service provided every week. I compliment the supervisor, Ms Marian Scully, and the assistant supervisor, Ms Michele Rohan, for the excellent work they do in keeping the scheme running so successfully.

When I raised the issue of pensions for community employment scheme supervisors and assistant supervisors during Leaders' Questions last year, the Taoiseach acknowledged the huge value of the scheme both in providing employment and training opportunities and important community services. I pay a special tribute to the supervisors who are linchpins of scheme. Many voluntary and sponsors groups are largely unaware of the full responsibilities being placed on them because of the efficiency of the supervisors in looking after all aspects of a scheme. The Department does not seem to acknowledge the vast amount of work being undertaken by supervisors and how constantly changing procedures and requirements make this role extremely difficult. This group of people do not have pensions or contracts of indefinite duration and have had no pay increases in the past ten years, despite Labour Court recommendations. It is clear that community employment schemes would not be in operation were it not for the supervisors. The supervisors of schemes run by certain local authorities, including Galway City Council, and Údarás na Gaeltachta have full pension rights.

I am calling on the Government to right a wrong. The supervisors should be brought within the remit of the Department. They should be entitled to a pension and given proper contracts. I call on the House to support the motion and ask for the issue to be resolved as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I welcome all of the people who have come from all around the country to be here. It is a disgrace that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has not done them the courtesy of being present. They face a long journey back to different parts of the country. Wherever the Minister is, it is a disgrace that she and others are not here to do the people in question the courtesy of listening to the debate. I thank Deputy Willie O'Dea and Fianna Fáil for bringing forward this very important motion.

I will highlight one aspect of the issue. An individual wrote a letter to the Minister. For more than 50 years he worked professionally and as a volunteer at local and national level in non-statutory organisations providing services and supports for people with special needs and their families. Killarney community employment scheme was established more than 25 years ago, initially under FÁS but is currently administered by the Department. This is an example of what is happening with every other scheme in all parts of County Kerry and the country. Like most community employment schemes throughout the country, Killarney community employment scheme has been of great benefit to hundreds of participants, local communities and organisations. Hundreds of participants have secured employment through community employment schemes. Killarney community employment scheme has a very high success rate for progression to either further training or employment. A recent audit showed a 100% progression rate in the previous 12 months. The supervisor, Mr. Michael Brosnan, who is present is due to retire in June after more than 24 years of sterling service. He will leave without a pension, the same as many more who are present, and with no entitlements other than the contributory State pension. That is neither fair nor equitable and is morally unjustifiable. although Michael has worked as a public servant for 24 years in all but name, he has been treated very differently from public servants employed by the State. His contract of employment is with Killarney community employment scheme. As such, he is deemed not to be a public servant, which is a disgrace. It is wrong to see people being beggared. They should receive that to which they are entitled and they should get it now.

I again thank Fianna Fáil for bringing forward this important motion.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I am delighted to speak to the motion and thank my colleagues in Fianna Fáil for bringing it forward. Community work schemes are at the bottom of the Government's list of priorities. This is the Government that set up the anti-rural Turas Nua scheme run by a company that has acted like a vulture in local communities. Communities that have willing workers who want to enter Tús, community employment and rural social schemes have had them grabbed from them. After months of pleading, some small moves have been made in the past week, whereby Turas Nua can refer persons to Tús and community employment schemes, but many great workers who want to take part in the rural social scheme are still kept in the system where they are going nowhere.

The motion is very much based on supervisors and assistant supervisors who, as we all know, are tireless workers day and night. I call on the Government to abide by the Labour Court ruling and allow the great people who are present their basic human right - a right to a pension. I am a member of Goleen and District Community Council which has benefited from the community employment scheme throughout west Cork. I thank the supervisors for the great work they have done.

I also concur with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae that it is a disgrace that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection is not here. For the past six weeks the Rural Independent Group has been looking for a meeting on the issue and others that affect people working on community employment schemes, but up to now the Minister has refused to meet up us, which is a disgrace. It is also a disgrace that she is not here to speak to the people who have come from all over the country.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Fianna Fáil for bringing forward the motion. I welcome each and every person who has come here and thank him or her for the great work he or she has done. I welcome the people who have come from County Kerry. I salute Mr. Michael Brosnan who worked for me and did great work on the schemes on which he worked. I salute all of the people who have come from County Kerry. They have made our parishes great through their great work during the years. That is how communities have been served and we thank them very much for their work. I am very disappointed with the Minister for not attending the debate. I am disappointed by the entire Fine Gael Party. There should have been more attention paid to the congregation that has come here.

What is going to happen? It does not look like Fine Gael or the Minister will listen to us, but I am asking Fianna Fáil to flex its muscles. It has a confidence and supply arrangement with the Government. In the budget in October it must ensure the Government will provide pensions for the people in question who have done Trojan work for their communities. If I did not pay Construction Industry Federation scheme stamp for employees to ensure they would receive a pension, I would go to jail, but that is what the Minister and the Government are getting away with. It is time they woke up because they are asleep.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I welcome gach duine as fud na tíre, the supervisors and assistant supervisors who are the heroes of rural and urban communities. They look after people from the cradle to the grave, but where is the Minister? Tá sí as láithair, but they will not be as láithair when it comes to voting. They know what to do - wait in the long grass, trip and knock her and tell her where to go. Fine Gael was never interested in the little people and ordinary people. It was only interested in landowners with the big daffodils along boreens, trees and white gates. Those involved in community employment schemes have been excellent ambassadors. I am chairman of a scheme in Newcastle, County Tipperary and praise our supervisor, Mr. Seán Byrne. Supervisors need to be social workers and understand legislation on employment, health and safety and God knows what else. Things are fired at them, but they receive no support. They are the ones on the front line for those who complain and when people have mental health issues. They have to do everything and I salute them from the bottom of my heart. We would not have a country without them.

I have been asking successive Governments for decades about this issue. I have been involved since 1988. I have asked for an audit of the value of community employment schemes, all of which would stop, including those run by county councils, the HSE, the Department of Justice and Equality and Text Alert.

They are all run, supported and led by CE participants. I thank each and every one of them. The progression from our scheme has been 100%. I also thank the social welfare officials, the SOLAS officials and all the people involved.

To hell with Turas Nua; turas uafasach, an awful journey is what it is. It is just big business again, friends of Fine Gael who got this contract. This was brought in in England and we brought it in here.

People should stand up for what they are proud of. The Government should support these people, give them a pension and not make paupers of them. It is a disgrace that the Minister is not here.

10:00 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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It needs to be said again that the absence of the Ministers, Deputies Regina Doherty and Donohoe, is effectively an insult to this House and to the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors who have turned up for tonight's debate. I welcome all those who have come from all corners of the country to be here tonight. I thank them for the work they do in communities throughout the country. In particular, I acknowledge those from Tipperary. I acknowledge Teresa Hinchey from Tipperary town who is the national chairperson of the SIPTU supervisors.

I confirm my support for the Private Members' motion before us tonight. A pension is a basic employment entitlement for workers. As someone who has been a trade unionist all my life and continues to be a member of Fórsa, one of the unions involved in representing the supervisors and assistant supervisors, I always believed that a Labour Court recommendation was the final place to go. Those who got a favourable recommendation were then in a position to ensure that their claim was fulfilled. It is an absolute shame that the Government would refuse to accept a Labour Court recommendation and particularly one that goes back ten years to 22 July 2008.

At about 3 p.m. Deputies got an email from the head usher who informed us that the Public Gallery was oversubscribed for tonight. That is a relatively rare occurrence here. It is an indication of the depth and strength of feeling of supervisors and assistant supervisors on the issue. It is an indication of the frustration and anger they feel on the issue.

We had a presentation and a briefing in the AV Room last Wednesday at which there was an unprecedented attendance from Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas. That is an indication of the respect Members have for these schemes, for the supervisors, the assistant supervisors and the participants in the schemes. On a daily basis Members of this House meet scheme members, supervisors and assistant supervisors in their normal representations for communities and for individuals. It is an indication of the huge community work done by the schemes and their participants.

The schemes deal with every aspect of community life, including crèches, tidy towns, GAA, soccer, rugby and other sporting organisations, and day care for the elderly. They are involved in every facet of community life in every village, town and indeed city in the country. The attendance by Members of the House at last week's briefing is an indication of the respect the Members of the House have for the participants in the schemes and their supervisors.

It would be disgraceful if the Government forced community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors into industrial action. It would be unprecedented and the Government should pull back from that tonight. If the Government refuses to ensure that pensions are payable to the supervisors and assistant supervisors, I, for one, will support the supervisors in taking industrial action if that is necessary. If such industrial action were forced on supervisors and assistant supervisors, it would create chaos in communities throughout the country.

The Government needs to remember that the workload taken on by supervisors and assistant supervisors has been phenomenal over the years. Many schemes have been amalgamated, and supervisors and assistant supervisors have taken on additional work. They got no compensation for that work. They have taken it on gladly and allowed the schemes to continue to operate. Of course, there have been no pay increases for the past ten years. About 1,250 supervisors and assistant supervisors are involved in the schemes. They need to be dealt with reasonably and urgently, and must get what they are entitled to.

In my view a pension is a basic employment right. Many supervisors and assistant supervisors will retire over a period of time. This year it is expected that anything up to 40 may retire with a similar figure last year. In dealing with this pension issue, people who are due to retire in the next few years must also be dealt with properly. We must remember that very many supervisors and assistant supervisors have retired in recent years with no pension except the State pension. Those supervisors and assistant supervisors have worked in these schemes for well over 20 years - some of them for nearly 30 years. One lady in Fethard, County Tipperary, who retired in recent times, was involved in the schemes for nearly 30 years. She is recognised as somebody who put huge effort into the organisation of community games in south Tipperary. People like that lady must also be dealt with under this scheme.

Of course, the moneys involved in this are relatively small - €6 million on an annual basis and about €19.5 million on a once-off basis. As Deputy Connolly said earlier, we are told that €3.2 billion is available for the coming budget. Fianna Fáil would be well advised to remember that and to ensure that if this issue is not solved before the budget, it gets solved in the budget. The money is there and Fianna Fáil has the power to ensure it happens.

I appeal to the Government to withdraw its amendment, which is an insult to this House and to the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors. There is not an ounce of goodwill in that amendment. It shamefully kicks the can further down the road and refuses to grant pensions to the supervisors and assistant supervisors. Now is the time for the Government to withdraw that shameful and disgraceful amendment. Now is the time for the Government to ensure that supervisors and assistant supervisors get the pensions to which they are entitled, that people who due to retire in the next few years are dealt with properly and that those who retired in the recent past are also dealt with.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleagues, Deputies O'Dea, Butler and Calleary, for their consistent work on the issue. I acknowledge and thank all those supervisors and assistant supervisors in attendance for tonight's debate.

In many respects they are tired of being told they are great and how good a job they are doing in their communities. They want action and they want movement on this issue. For all of the other Opposition Deputies who have used this debate as a platform for attacking Fianna Fáil, I would remind them this is a debate brought about by Fianna Fáil tabling this Private Members' motion with a view to bringing about a solution to this issue.

As has been said, time is not on the side of many of the supervisors and assistant supervisors. Some 250 have already retired and some have gone to their eternal reward. The fact the Government is clinging to the issue of it not being a party to the Labour Court recommendation does not stand up to scrutiny. The State is ultimately underpinning these CE schemes and needs to find a way of giving effect to the Labour Court recommendation. Governments always accept Labour Court recommendations in principle and the Government should do so in this matter as well.

It is indisputable that there has been considerable procrastination. This issue has been dragged out time and again. If the Government is not going to do anything about this, it should be honest. Instead of talking about another review or another forum, it should just say it and be honest with those involved. Of course, wider implications have to be considered but these need to be teased out in a professional way. Are there other categories of employees who are comparable and who have a similar Labour Court recommendation in their back pocket? I certainly do not know of any.

The Minister needs to meet the unions and find a way forward. I am a firm believer that if the political will is there, any issue can be resolved. This issue can certainly be resolved. I want to reassure the House that Fianna Fáil is committed to resolving this issue.

10:10 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak and I thank Deputies Willie O'Dea, Mary Butler and Dara Calleary for bringing forward this Private Members' motion. It is unfortunate that it is the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who has been sent in because he is very good in his own role. It is also unfortunate that the Ministers, Deputy Paschal Donohoe and Deputy Regina Doherty, are not here to greet the people in the Visitors Gallery, who have travelled from all around the country. While I do not know who the people sitting in the Visitors Gallery vote for, I am sure as hell that some of them are Government supporters and they feel very let down tonight. It is disgraceful and embarrassing. One thing the Government should do is withdraw its amendment.

I want to thank Michelle from Galway, who organised a bus and a car load, and who brought up 52 people today to show support for this motion. When I talk about Michelle, I have to talk about the money she is on. Michelle earns €10.94 an hour after tax and she takes home €426 a week. One would think we are talking about people on seriously large wages but we are not. If anyone thought Michelle's wages were bad, an assistant supervisor who was taken on a few weeks ago started on payscale 1 and he has to use family income support of €93 per week to make up his income. These are the people I am talking about, the people representing us with the Cope Foundation, Youth Work Ireland, Brothers of Charity, Ability West and in day care centres. When there is a photograph to be taken after they have done the jobs on the GAA pitches and the playgrounds, and painted the day care centres, by God, some of the Minister of State's colleagues are front and centre to be there for the photograph.

Photo of Jack ChambersJack Chambers (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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As Deputy Rabbitte said, the Government has treated the supervisors with contempt. Government members are there for the photo opportunities, there for the spin and there to take every opportunity for their own self-promotion. When decent people have contributed to their communities, when they have sought to bring others with them and provide a centrality and a hub for the people they represent in their community centres, GAA clubs and the voluntary sector, they have been driven out at retirement stage because of contempt and because of a delay in the process through which they should get a pension and get their entitlements.

Deputy D'Arcy's speech mentioned mobility. In my constituency of Dublin West I have seen that the only mobility people are getting in regard to CE schemes is that they are being sent home, whether it is people retiring or people who are trying to participate in CE schemes not getting an extension. It is an attempt by the Government to privatise this process. It is wrong and it has to be changed.

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Like Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and many others in this House, I am around long enough to remember AnCO and I have been involved in both CE and FÁS schemes for many years. I want to clearly put on record that the purpose of setting up limited companies by FÁS at the time was to shift responsibility for the disbursement and accountability of moneys on foot of a "Prime Time" investigation on RTÉ, where mismanagement was found in the south east of the country. That was cleverly construed in order to shift responsibility from the Government to the voluntary chairs of community boards and to deflect from the issue which I knew was going to come down the road, namely, providing a pension for those who look after the schemes on behalf of the voluntary boards.

In conclusion, on average there are 30 people being managed in these schemes. In the public service people would be paid a pension for looking after 30 staff. The Minister should get the finger out and pay the pension.

Photo of Aindrias MoynihanAindrias Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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I want to acknowledge the large attendance in the Visitors Gallery. People have travelled with great enthusiasm to hear the debate on what is an important and significant issue, as we saw with the turnout in the AV room last week. I acknowledge Deputies Willie O'Dea and Mary Butler, who have pursued this and brought the debate to the House today.

The community employment schemes are very important to so many communities around the country. We see the fruits of their work in community amenities, sports facilities, Tidy Towns, childcare facilities and so many other ways. They are delivering not just an income but dignity and a pathway towards work. A huge part of this is the work of supervisors and assistant supervisors, who are very important in regard to the success of the schemes.

In 2008 the Labour Court made the decision and we should not have to be here today pursuing it. In the meantime, 250 people have retired without a pension and the remaining 1,250 cannot be left watching this drag on. The proposed Government amendment suggests even more dragging on. That should not continue. A decision has already been made by the Labour Court and we need a clear road map to the pension for these very important people.

Ní féidir rudaí a fhágaint mar atá siad. Tá an cinneadh déanta cheana féin ag an Labour Court le cúpla bliain anuas agus tá gá le brú ar aghaidh chun an pinsin a chur ar fáil i gcomhair na daoine seo atá ag obair chomh gníomhach ar son na pobail, tríd na tíre. Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of John BrassilJohn Brassil (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the motion. As has been pointed out on many occasions, there was a Labour Court recommendation in 2008. I do not know how many times I have heard the Government stand behind Labour Court recommendations, in particular when the recommendation does not suit the other side of the argument. On this occasion, the recommendation is for the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors but for ten years we have procrastinated on the issue. It affects new supervisors coming into the scheme, those who have retired and those about to retire. The recommendation clearly states it is desirable for all workers to have pensions, that this should be introduced for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors and that the scheme should be adequately funded by FÁS. It is in black and white. If one goes back as far as 2003, it has been Government policy for all employers to offer pensions. We are facing a cliff edge on pension payments in years to come and if employers do not stand up to their responsibilities, it is going to get worse. In this case, the State has to step up to its responsibility.

The services that are provided have been spoken of by many speakers. They are invaluable to the communities they serve. There are people in the Visitors Gallery from all over the country who have come here in the hope that we will do right by them and that this motion will at last address an issue that has been with us for over ten years. I plead with the Minister. Now is the time for action.

The time for talking is over. These people deserve what they are entitled to. As a State and as a Parliament, we should have the dignity to respect it.

10:20 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies who made passionate contributions and I acknowledge the people from CE schemes throughout the country. I can only apologise for my colleagues who are not here.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Where are they?

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I did not interrupt Deputy McGrath. I want to clarify one point for the record. The Government accepts the first four points of the Fianna Fáil motion but deletes what comes after the fourth point. That is how it appears to me and I hope that, having read it a couple of times, I am right about that.

Community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors are not employed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection but are employees of companies in the community and voluntary sector. The State is not responsible for funding arrangements for such employees, even where the companies in question are reliant on State funding. It is open to individual CE supervisors to provide for a pension by way of a personal retirement savings account, PRSA, which all employers are obliged to facilitate. It is not possible, despite what has been said, to confine consideration of this matter to community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors alone as these individuals are a small section of a very large community and voluntary sector. It is clear that the provision of State funding for such a scheme in respect of those employees could give rise to claims for similar schemes on the part of those in the broader sector. The potential cost of this would create a significant cost on the Exchequer.

The scoping exercise that was carried out in 2017 estimated that it would cost €188 million per annum in respect of funding to enable an employer pension contribution in State-funded community and voluntary organisations. An immediate ex gratialump sum pension, as is being sought, could entail a further Exchequer cost of up to €318 million depending on the size of the community and voluntary sector. Notwithstanding the existence of the 2008 Labour Court recommendation, therefore, the question of pension provision for employees of private organisations in the community and voluntary sector is one which is of relevance to the potentially very large number of individuals, far greater than only community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors. Accordingly, as the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, stated, consideration of this issue cannot be confined to this cohort alone but must have regard to all community and voluntary sector employees and to the implications for scarce Exchequer resources.

A major pension reform is now being advanced which should go a long way to addressing Members' concerns with regard to this issue. As Members will be aware, a major reform of future State, private and public service pension provision was announced in February this year when the Government launched a five-year roadmap for pensions reform. To ensure the State pension system continues to play its role in providing a core level of adequate income, the Government intends to implement a number of reforms. One of these reforms is focused on addressing Ireland's significant retirement savings gap, and a new retirement savings system will be introduced to encourage employees to provide for additional retirement income to supplement the State pension. The Government will, by 2022, introduce a State-sponsored supplementary employment related retirement savings system in which workers will be automatically enrolled. It is intended that employee savings in this scheme will be supported by employer and State contributions. Under the system, workers will have the freedom to opt out, should they so choose, but experience in other countries indicates that, once automatically enrolled, workers tend to remain in the system. It is hoped and anticipated that the same experience will be repeated in Ireland.

I think I was right to read my point of clarification into the record at the beginning of my contribution to the effect that the Government's amendment relates to the motion after the fourth point. Is that the case?

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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They are only statements of fact.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked me to clarify.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State's response was quite appalling.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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He accepted the first four points of our motion but that is just a pat on the back and the Minister of State knows that a pat on the back does not put butter on the spuds for pensioners, and there is no pension in what the Government is accepting. The Minister of State speaks of employers being able to opt out of future pension reforms, but on this occasion the Government has opted out. It has opted out of giving pensions to its own employees, in spite of a recommendation of the independent Labour Court which we are all supposed to respect and adhere to.

I took up this cause in November 2015 and I thank Deputies O'Dea and Butler for their support. I was approached by a very good friend and was asked to meet his colleagues who were CE supervisors. CE supervisors and assistant supervisors have a unique opportunity to redirect individuals' futures and to shape communities for the better, which they do every single day throughout the country. Since that time, 35 or 40 have been leaving every year without a pension, left to the vagaries of our State pension service in spite of 25 or 30 years of service to AnCO, FÁS or whatever it may have been called. They gave 25 or 30 years of service to their local communities and ensured better opportunities for individuals who have, ironically, gone on to get better pension provisions than those who gave them the opportunities in the first place.

This Government needs to wake up to the potential of CE and to support it and embrace it. It needs to finish its relationship with JobPath and put the money it put into JobPath into the men and women in the Visitors' Gallery and those others around the country who are watching. It needs to wake up and support the Labour Court. For a Government to ignore a recommendation of the Labour Court undermines our industrial relations machinery, because every time employers ignore the Labour Court, they will point to the Government ignoring this ruling.

I spoke about my meeting in summer 2015. The gentleman who asked me to that meeting was a supervisor of many years' standing and was in great health at that time. He passed away very suddenly, months later, without a pension or support for his family and leaving behind a community bereft. For his sake, I am going to keep up this fight and I am going to do it for the sake of each man and woman in the Gallery who have travelled from the places the length and breadth of the country. I know at least one person who would have preferred to watch the Liverpool match tonight. They won 5-2, by the way. I ask the Minister of State for a little bit more Klopp and little less rubbish. I ask that the Government deliver on its promise and on the Labour Court recommendation for the sake of these people.

Photo of Bobby AylwardBobby Aylward (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I commend my colleagues on bringing forward this motion and I only wish I had more time to speak on this very important issue. The community employment schemes were introduced in this country at a time when unemployment levels were very high, particularly in rural Ireland. By all accounts, the initiative has been very successful and has served its participants very well in securing employment when jobs were scarce and in helping the long-term unemployed to find a pathway back to work. We cannot underestimate the effect secure employment can have on a person, from both a financial and mental health point of view. I have spoken to people who were long-term unemployed for years and could see no light at the end of the tunnel, and it was the CE scheme that got them going again, giving them a jump start and leading them back to full-time and long-term employment.

CE schemes would never have succeeded without the work of the supervisors and assistant supervisors. They have a strong personal vocation for the work they do and they are passionate about helping the people of their communities. Our motion calls for a satisfactory pathway to be found, based on the 2008 Labour Court recommendations, to address the pension issue for the 1,250 CE supervisors and assistant supervisors.

Last week my colleagues, Deputies Butler and Calleary, organised a briefing in Leinster House on this issue. It was clear at that meeting that there was strong cross-party support to find a solution to this unfair anomaly. These supervisors are honest, hard-working people and they need the Government to do the right thing and set out a pathway to provide them with the pensions they are owed.

The Government cannot sit on its hands any longer. With all due respect to him, the Minister of State is here tonight. However, the two senior Ministers are not here, showing disrespect to the motion proposed by Fianna Fáil tonight. At least one of the Ministers responsible for this decision should be here tonight to listen. People from all over the country are in the Gallery who expected at least one Minister to have the respect to come here and listen to what we have to say.

The Government cannot hide behind red tape any more. A recommendation of the Labour Court was made. We cannot say these people are not employees of the State. They need a way out. They need a pension. They have done their service all over the country, particularly in rural Ireland. It is time for the Government to wake up and look after them and give them the pensions that they deserve.

10:30 pm

Photo of Eamon ScanlonEamon Scanlon (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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It is extremely disappointing to think that the Minister of State's colleagues did not think it worth their while to come in and listen to the debate. A great number of people have travelled from the east, west, north and south tonight to make their case. It does not show much respect to those people and shows very little regard for them. They will have made maybe an 18 hour or a 20 hour round trip before they are back home again. It is disappointing that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection is not here, which has been said already. Another Minister I feel should be here is the Minister for Health. I am sure my constituency is no different from any other in this country. Every one of these people, supervisors and assistant supervisors, is aware of and looks after people. We hear a lot of talk about suicide prevention. In my own constituency, a great number are suffering from mental health issues and because of the work of these people - those in the AV room and in the Gallery tonight - they have a reason to live and a reason to get up in the morning. They have a reason to go to work with the help and support of these people and their colleagues.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Eamon ScanlonEamon Scanlon (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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This has been missed completely in the debate. There was a Labour Court recommendation in 2008. It is very easy for the Opposition - Sinn Féin - to ask why we did not pay at that time. There was not enough money to pay the people on the schemes never mind the pensions of any other people. This should be concluded and sorted out. As Deputy Calleary said, there are people who have gone to their eternal reward who did great work.

We should remember those in communities working on a voluntary basis and the communities that support these schemes and workers. What is happening is a disgrace. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is a decent man and I have had many dealings with him. However, it is an absolute disgrace to think there is not another person from Fine Gael in this House tonight on such an important issue.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Those in the Gallery should refrain from applauding. I call Deputy Ó Cuív.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Most of this has been said before. The reality is that there was a Labour Court ruling in 2008. I can understand that it was not introduced at the height of the downturn when the order of the day was cutting back. For the last number of years the budget has increased to such a level that, in fact, this year the expenditure voted by this House will be as big as it was in 2008. Therefore, it is time that this matter was dealt with. The Government has been taking steps but they have been very slow. A high-level forum was set up but it seems that there is a difficulty in just progressing this and coming to a conclusion. In the meantime, supervisors and assistant supervisors are retiring without anything other than the State pension.

The message is loud and clear. The Government must deal with this issue now and must come to a conclusion, organise the meetings and make a decision. That is what people are looking for. Not to do so would be totally unfair. As the Minister of State knows - I often wonder if Departments fully appreciate this - if the CE schemes were to stop tomorrow, what would happen to the services that have come to depend on these schemes? In terms of training people back into employment who have been long-term unemployed and in terms of people's personal well-being, what would happen? Without the supervisors and assistant supervisors, it is not possible to do anything. The Government has the recommendation and it is time that it acted. It is time the Government made a decision to award the pension that was basically awarded by the Labour Court. It would be a very bad precedent if it did not honour a Labour Court recommendation.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I call on Deputy Willie O'Dea to conclude the debate.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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I thank everybody who contributed to the debate. I thank all the parties and individual Deputies who expressed their support for this motion. We very much appreciate that. There was one aspect of community employment that has not been mentioned tonight, namely, the sponsors. I recognise the important role the sponsors play in the delivery of the community employment schemes. I also want to reassure those who have raised issues about JobPath that we produced a Bill recently to enable people who were taken into JobPath to participate in CE schemes if such a vacancy would occur. The Government has accepted the substance of that Bill, which I welcome.

Having said that, I must say I am absolutely aghast at the Government's response. This is in no way to be taken as a personal reflection on the Ministers of State, Deputies D'Arcy and Doyle, both of whom I hold in high regard. My understanding of the Government's argument is that one of the reasons CE supervisors have not been provided with pensions is that what the Minister describes as the private companies that employ these people did not make provision for pensions for them. What are these so-called private companies? The local GAA club, the Tidy Towns committee, Meals on Wheels - when they were allocated a CE scheme, they were supposed to immediately set aside funding - but not any of the public funding because they were not enabled to do that. They were supposed to hold more raffles, take up more collections, etc., and beg more people for money to provide a lump sum for a pension scheme for a CE supervisor.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Leader of the Opposition; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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It is absurd.

Photo of Willie O'DeaWillie O'Dea (Limerick City, Fianna Fail)
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That is the reason the Government has refused to implement the Labour Court recommendation. The Minister of State also said, in his supplied script from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, that while he accepts the figures of €6 million per year plus €19 million for the gratuity, this could lead on to enormous, potentially life-threatening sums of €350 million or €400 million. It could potentially do that. Whenever I hear a Minister seeking to defend the indefensible using the word "potentially", I know he has reached the bottom of the barrel. The reality is that all the different organisations that make up the voluntary and community sector in this country are unique and distinct. They all have their own particular characteristics. This motion is about CE supervisors and assistant supervisors only, nobody else. It does not constitute any precedent or create any inevitability that there would be knock-on claims of the magnitude the Government is trying to suggest. Besides, I do not know of any other organisation in the voluntary and community sector that has a Labour Court recommendation stating that those involved in it are entitled to a pension. They are unique. This is confined to community employment supervisors alone. Let us dispel all this nonsense about "potentially" and "knock-on effects", etc.

I thank the people in the Public Gallery for their attendance and their patience. This issue has meandered on now for ten years. I really admire that they have continued to make their case assiduously in spite of all the setbacks, prevarications, delays and false promises that came to nothing. They have persisted with their campaign because they believe so firmly in the justice of their cause. We are all familiar with the Old Testament character, Job, who was supposed to be a man of immense patience. In the patience stakes, the people representing CE supervisors would put Job to shame.

Initially - I know this has been dropped now - when Deputy Joan Burton was Minister for Social Protection, they came up with this argument about FÁS not being represented at the Labour Court. It was an argument that would make Oscar Pistorius's defence seem credible.

10 o’clock

It supplemented that with an argument that was even more incredible.

The time for prevarication is over. People have travelled here from the length and breadth of Ireland. They have come to show all of us here in Leinster House and the country at large how strongly they believe in their case. I am not talking about the Minister of State when I say this, but I believe that these people have been insulted by the Government tonight. They have been insulted because the Ministers responsible, in particular the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, did not have the gumption to come in here and read out the miserable script that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection wrote as a defence for not providing them with their justified claim. In the very last line of the supplied reply from the Minister of State, the final answer these people are getting as a reward for their efforts and their journey tonight, it is stated that any solution to this issue will require careful consideration. This has been under consideration for ten years, and they are now being told that more consideration is required, which will lead to more prevarication and delay.

I assure the people who have travelled here tonight and the country at large that Fianna Fáil is committed to sorting out this issue. It is incumbent on the Minister of State now to withdraw this amendment. It is a despicable, disgraceful amendment and it should be withdrawn. Fianna Fáil's motion should be accepted, the necessary provision should be made and the people should be given a definitive timescale for the granting of their pensions, which they are entitled to as a result of a Labour Court recommendation and for which they have been waiting for ten years.

Amendment put.

10:40 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 26 April 2018.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I hope more Fine Gael Deputies turn up for the division than turned up for the debate.

The Dáil adjourned at at 10.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 April 2018.