Community employment (CE) supervisors are considering industrial action in a 10-year dispute over pensions. The 1,250 staff concerned have no access to any occupational pension scheme.
Fórsa national secretary Angela Kirk told the union's Services & Enterprises Divisional conference in Galway that a 2008 Labour Court recommendation, which ordered that an agreed pension scheme should be put in place for the staff, has never been either accepted or rejected by successive Governments.
Almost 250 supervisors have retired with no occupational pension since the 2008 Labour Court recommendation was published. Between 30 and 40 are currently retiring each year.
In what has become a torturous process, the Labour Relations Commission ordered the establishment of a ‘high level forum’ to deal with the issue in 2015. But the Forum only convened four times, before it broke down last April after making zero progress. The issue was again raised in public service pay talks last summer, but no progress has yet followed.
Last month, Fórsa’s community employment supervisors’ branch voted to reactivate an earlier ballot for industrial action because the process had stalled again. “This course of action was previously shelved while negotiations appeared to hold out the prospect of some progress,” according to Ms Kirk.
“The union raised this issue at the highest level during the Public Service Stability Agreement negotiations last May. As a result, a number of high-level meetings took place with DPER last autumn. It is ten years since the problem was addressed by the Labour Court, and we will not continue to wait, year after year after year, for some movement on this scandalous situation.
“Virtually uniquely in the public sector, CE supervisors have no occupational pension provision at all. They provide crucial supports to long-term unemployed people and the communities they live in, yet they are condemned by successive government inaction to eke out a retirement living on the state pension,” she said.
Carmel Keogh of Fórsa’s CE supervisors’ branch said: “We spend our careers helping disadvantaged and marginalised people, and the long-term unemployed, to gain work in the local community as a stepping stone to regular employment. But when we retire, we become disadvantaged ourselves. It’s scandalous that three successive Governments have failed to accept and act on a recommendation from the State’s highest industrial relations authority. We can’t, and won’t, wait forever.”
Approximately 25,000 people currently benefit from community employment schemes, which provide training and support to participants, as well as community services like crèches, meals on wheels, tidy towns support, and the upkeep of community facilities including GAA and soccer pitches. Some schemes have success rates – in terms of progression into employment – as high as 75%.
Fórsa lead organiser Joe O'Connor led a cross-party briefing on the issue in the Dáil last week (pictured).