Government Action Plan for Jobs 2012

23 Feb 2012

INOU Commentary on Action Plan for Jobs

On 13th February, the Government launched their Action Plan for Jobs 2012. In his opening remarks An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, T.D. notes "The importance of a job is not only about money in the pocket, but it gives a person a sense of dignity and value. People want to work, to contribute to their country, to their community, to their family." The INOU would concur with these remarks and would call on An Taoiseach and his Government to be cognisant of them when discussing unemployment and those affected by it in the public domain. The cold reality is that the Government has insufficient employment, education or training options to offer all the unemployed people seeking them let alone threatening those who have already lost heart. To that end the INOU welcomes Minister Richard Bruton, T.D. commitment that "This Plan will be measured, monitored and delivered."

The INOU refutes the Government's claim that "Governments don't create jobs". Governments do and at present 1 in 6 people in employment are employed by the State. Many commentators note how many of well educated young Irish people have emigrated because they cannot find work here: they cannot find work here because the most likely employer, the State itself, is cutting back on its own employment. Instead these, the best educated generation Ireland has ever had, are heading abroad to work for other countries to support the maintenance and development of their public services.

Specific Developments

In the Programme for Government the development of a one-stop-shop for enterprise development based in the Local Authorities was flagged. The Action Plan initiates that process with the dissolution of the City and County Enterprise Boards and the establishment of Micro Enterprise and Small Business Unit in Enterprise Ireland and a planned new network of Local Enterprise Offices. However, looking at the timetable of actions for 2012 it is unlikely that any of these developments will progress far this year. Self-employment is one important route out of unemployment and it is vital that unemployed people get timely access to proper levels of support. In particular, that any new developments do not delay unemployed people's access to the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance, and the further development of their business ideas.

The INOU welcomes the proposal to "Simplify and extend the Employer Job (PRSI) Incentive Scheme, which exempts employers from liability to pay their share of PRSI for certain employees. The scheme will be extended to cover the first 18 months of employment" (1.13 + 3.46) which the Department of Social Protection should action in Quarter 1 2012. It would be particularly important that DSP improves its links with employers at the local level and encourages them to take on unemployed people.

"We will ensure that people in the Irish labour market, particularly those that have lost their jobs, have access to a quality further and higher education and training system that is aligned with and responsive to the needs of enterprise."(Introduction to Actions 1.34-1.40) This is absolutely critical otherwise unemployed people's experiences of being sent on training courses merely to fill a seat will perpetuate which is completely demoralizing for the individual and a complete waste of limited resources.

"Examine the options with regard to extending benefit cover to the self-employed." (2.14) The INOU made a submission on this issue to the DSP's Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare last November and it is disappointing to see that no action will be taken before Q4 this year. A copy of this submission is on our website.

"Issue to persons who are over one year unemployed a certificate to present to employers of eligibility for Revenue Job Assist." (3.45) and "Target the increased take‐up of support schemes available to employers who take on additional workers, such as Revenue Job Assist and the Employer Job (PRSI) Incentive Scheme, by increasing employers awareness of the schemes through relevant Departments, agencies and business and employer representatives; we will actively monitor the take‐up of the schemes and remove any identified obstacles to increased take‐up." (3.47)

The INOU in its work of engaging with employers and encouraging them to take on unemployed people has been promoting Revenue Job Assist which offers tax relief to both the employer and the unemployed person and the employer PRSI exemption scheme. This action should lead to a more pro-active service and encourage frontline staff to inform unemployed people with families of the supports that are available to them to help them get back to work, while encouraging employers to hire unemployed people. Such a development would be most welcome and is badly needed.

"Upskilling and conversion actions to increase the domestic supply of high‐level skills over the period 2012‐2014 including maximising the uptake of Springboard ICT programmes, Job‐bridge National Internship Programme, and introducing a Higher Diploma Level 8 Conversion Programme;" (7.5.1)

"Ensure that labour activation programmes continue to be aimed at enhancing the employability of the unemployed, reskilling, upskilling and keeping redundant workers/unemployed persons close to the labour market and are tailored specific to the needs of this cohort of unemployed." (7.12.6)

The INOU strongly believes that for these developments to produce concrete results for unemployed people then frontline staff must be fully informed of all developments; be aware of the availability of these initiatives in their area and be able to match up the right unemployed person with these opportunities. This demands a level of knowledge and skill at a systematic level that is currently not apparent and is an issue that must be seriously addressed if unemployed people needs are to be properly met. This is particularly pertinent if the following statement is to ring true: "This Action Plan will be complemented by the Government's policy statement, Pathways to Work, which is designed to ensure that as the economy recovers, the unemployed will be in a position to fill the jobs that arise, particularly in emerging sectors." (p14)

In Chapter 6 entitled "Developing Employment Initiatives within the Community" it is strange that the focus is on SME initiatives in the private sector and not on community based projects. Yet community groups have played a significant role in local development and responding to local needs in a flexible and accessible manner and "This contribution is critical to maintaining a micro‐economy and societal fabric in many rural areas and smaller towns." (p64)

To that end it is vitally important that in the development of social enterprises, in the development and roll-out of a Community Investment Fund that local community groups are supported to play their part and further develop their work. In particular that community groups are integral to any examination of "the potential to establish a national Community Investment Fund to support matching co‐funding to encourage involvement of all sections of society to create employment. Resources would be allocated on a competitive basis with funds given to the best projects. As one to one matching private/community resources would be a condition of this fund, it would directly leverage direct expenditure." (6.11)

It also welcome to see Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation start to take a lead role on social enterprise and in particular that ForFás will report back to the Minister before the end of the year "on the potential of social enterprise to create jobs. The report will identify the actions required, in funding, procurement, etc, by Government and other relevant bodies and agencies to create jobs in this sector. It will examine potential initiatives in this area (e.g. a Micro‐Working Initiative) and will be prepared with particular reference to the European Commission's Social Business Initiative and associated funding." (6.7)