Fórsa and Siptu representatives attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection on Wednesday (29th September) to discuss the growing crisis in local employment services (LES) and jobs clubs. Union representatives outlined several contributing factors to the crisis, their concerns over the tendering process and the lack of a genuine stakeholders’ forum.
Unions have said a Government-imposed tendering process favours for-profit providers over the current community-focussed, not-for-profit service. This means that privatisation, job losses and a diminished employment service is likely unless the Government changes course.
Fórsa assistant general secretary Lynn Coffey (pictured) told the committee the union wanted a pause on the proposed tendering process.
“Experience shows that turning these services, and the people who need them, into a profit-driving commodity is simply unworkable. Our message to the committee is to put the service users first, particularly at a time when the pandemic has inflicted so much damage on the labour market.
“We’re asking for meaningful and inclusive engagement with representatives from the service providers, the service users, employee representatives and academics and to take an approach that is consistent with achieving the maximum social benefit,” she said.
Unions called on the members of the committee to support the campaign to halt the tendering process and to allow a full and wider debate about the future provision of these services with a focus on workers’ welfare.
The department subsequently issued a letter yesterday (Thursday) to all LES partners, confirming that a new contract for the provision of LES and job club services is to be issued, limited to a period of no longer than six months, extending current service arrangements up to the end of June 2022.
The department said this would facilitate providers to explore opportunities to work collaboratively on joint tenders under the next phase of the procurement process. This was due to commence early next year, but has now been deferred until the end of June 2022.
Lynn added: "The department's decision to defer the next phase of the procurement process does allow current service providers some additional time to prepare edit to tender.
“But the underlying principle of how the services are to be delivered hasn't been addressed, and we continue to seek an engagement with the department to ensure the service-user centred approach is maintained."
In a statement issued by the committee in advance of Wednesday’s meeting, its Cathaoirleach, Denis Naughten TD, said the meeting would provide an opportunity to question the Department of Social Protection on the proposed changes and the reason behind the new phased procurement process.
“The committee recommended in its recent pre-Budget submission that local employment services and job clubs be maintained in their current model. There are concerns that a tendering process for employment services initiated by the Department of Social Protection will lead to possible redundancies and a disruption of service continuity at the worst possible time for jobseekers.
“There is a real fear that the person centred approach of employment services and jobs clubs will be replaced with a purely placement focused approach excluding valuable key aspects of existing services like personal development,” he said.
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