Seanad debates

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

4:00 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister of State and welcome the opportunity to discuss this important matter. I wish to share time with Senator Cummins.

I ask for confirmation that an application has been made by the Government to access the EU globalisation fund. The EU has established the globalisation fund, worth over €500 million per year until 2013, to pay for retraining and reskilling where there are large-scale redundancies. The scheme was first available to companies with a workforce in excess of 1,000 but that number has since been reduced to 500. The 600 redundancies at Waterford Crystal, therefore, qualifies for EU help.

The Government sought this help for the 1,900 workers in Limerick who were made redundant by Dell in January. The formal application for cash was made in mid-June. On 3 July the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimír Spidla, visited Limerick. It seems the EU and the Government are fast-tracking this application. There is a good chance that €20 million will be available to former Dell workers to acquire new skills. I am glad to know some measure of hope is being offered to the people of Limerick. My interest is in the people of Waterford and the south east. Will the Minister of State clarify if the Government has applied for assistance for Waterford from the EU globalisation fund?

There is a shocking contrast between the Government's concern for Limerick and its total failure to help Waterford and the employees of Waterford Crystal. Waterford cannot wait. It has been hit more than most because of high dependency on the manufacturing sector. This is seen in widespread redundancies across many employers and manufacturers in Waterford, such as Waterford Crystal, Bausch & Lomb, ABB Transformers, Honeywell and many others. I hope the Minister of State will confirm the Government is working in the best interests of the workers of Waterford and that it has applied for the assistance of the EU globalisation fund.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I support Senator Coffey on this matter. We want fair play for Waterford and the south east but that is not what we have had in recent years. Senator Coffey referred to the haemorrhage of jobs in recent months, with 600 jobs lost at Waterford Crystal, 200 at Bausch & Lomb and 178 at ABB Transformers. We wish the people of Limerick well. They need this finance but we want fair play, particularly for Waterford Crystal workers. They have suffered enough, with their pensions almost totally eroded. People paid into a pension for 40 years and came out with a pittance and hardly any lump sum. It is a disgrace. Those who put so much money into the economy over the past 40 or 50 years should be treated with the utmost respect. When will we get the money? I take it the application for funding is in and we should be getting the money fairly soon. I await the Minister's response on that.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I will respond to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan. I thank the Senators for raising this important issue. I share the Senator's concern to ensure that all possible measures be put in place to assist the workers who have lost their jobs at Waterford Crystal to upskill and eventually get alternative employment. With that aim in mind, FÁS has put in place a special team to assist those workers with individual skills assessment, occupational advice and guidance, training and job search assistance. FÁS has worked and continues to work in close collaboration with other statutory agencies and educational institutions in the south-east region, such as Waterford Institute of Technology, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the regional educational guidance service for adults, Waterford citizens information centre, Waterford VEC, Enterprise Ireland and the local employment services.

A two-day information event was held on 11 and 12 March at which these statutory agencies and educational institutions provided information to Waterford Crystal employees, mainly on educational and training programmes that are available locally. To date 520 former Waterford Crystal workers have been given one-to-one guidance interviews, 336 workers have completed training courses in various skills that they identified, 26 are currently being trained and a further 80 have yet to commence training. Other training courses run by FÁS and from which these workers have benefited include heavy goods vehicle driving, basic computer skills, warehouse, fork truck driving and an introduction to life sciences.

These interventions are being provided from existing budgets. Any funds received in future through the European globalisation fund will serve to defray some of the costs already incurred. However, the process of approving such applications at European level involves consultations with the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council. That can take some time to complete and, therefore, supports that redundant workers require now will continue to be provided, irrespective of the fate of applications for transfers from the European globalisation fund. In this context, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has requested her Department, in conjunction with FÁS and other State agencies, to prepare an application for assistance based on interventions for former Waterford Crystal workers. This process is being finalised and, on the assumption that this results in an application that satisfies the strict eligibility criteria, it will be submitted to the European Commission for initial consideration.

Last December the European Commission proposed, as part of the European economic recovery plan, the revision of the current European globalisation fund regulation to make it more accessible, effective and responsive. This was partly as a result of the limited take-up by member states of European globalisation fund assistance during its first two years of operation. The new application conditions will make the fund more accessible, particularly to smaller countries such as Ireland and include halving the applicable redundancies threshold to 500, doubling the implementation period to 24 months, increasing EU co-financing from 50% to 65% and broadening the eligibility criteria for applications made between 1 May 2009 and 31 December 2011. The revised regulation was formally adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council on 11 June last. The changes to the European globalisation fund regulation apply retrospectively to all applications submitted by member states since 1 May 2009. The revisions will also facilitate Ireland and ensure, in the event of any application being successful, that higher level of co-financing than heretofore will be provided from the European globalisation fund.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Minister of State for the information but I am disappointed by it. The criteria have made it easier for Irish companies to access the European globalisation fund but I am disappointed with the lack of urgency with regard to job losses at Waterford Crystal. My understanding is that Limerick is treated as a high priority, with a visit from the European Commissioner, whereas in the case of Waterford, there is no urgency. The initial application has not been considered, it is only being put together at a delayed stage when job losses have happened. Workers are in urgent need of retraining and reskilling. It is not good enough. When will the Government stop sitting on its hands and engage with the people of Waterford and the European Commission and apply for the fund? The criteria are clearly set out. When will the Minister of State confirm that the application has been submitted? There is a lot of vague-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Does Senator Coffey have a question?

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

When will the application be completed? When can the people of Waterford expect fair play, focus, attention and representation from the Government? To date, we have not seen that.

The same applies in respect of the application of the Waterford Institute of Technology for university status. The Government treats the application with contempt, fobbing it off on a year-by-year basis. Waterford and the south east is suffering as a result. When will the application be finalised?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

An application must satisfy the strict eligibility criteria and there is no question that this does so. Like Senator Coffey, I am surprised that an application has not yet been made. I would have thought that at this stage we would have had word back that we would be receiving money from the globalisation fund. However, we now learn that an application has not been submitted and we will not receive word back unless one is submitted. Unfortunately, it is typical of the way in which the people of Waterford are treated.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The application for assistance is based on interventions made so the application is now being processed. I do not know when exactly it will be finalised. I will pass on the Senators' questions to the Minister.