Programme for Government - not good enough says INOU

5 Jun 2002

While there is much to be welcomed in the Programme for Government agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed is continuing with its campaign to have swingeing cuts to Community Employment projects (CE) halted and reversed.

Tomorrow, Thursday June 6 at 11am, the INOU will take part in a protest rally outside Dáil Éireann calling for 'Consultation not cuts', because the government's reduction in CE places is a breach of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) that has not been agreed with the Social Partners.

'There are many new measures to combat unemployment in the Programme for Government,' says INOU general secretary Eric Conroy. 'We particularly welcome the two parties' commitment that they "support the positive role of the Community Employment Scheme to meet the needs of both the long-term unemployed and communities". But if this support is genuine, why are the government already cutting CE participation to 25,000 places, well below the 28,000 minimum agreed in the PPF, without having any new alternative to CE in place for those making the move from welfare to work?'

Mr Conroy continued: 'It is welcome that the two parties say "We will seek to ensure that new social economy projects are effectively targeted at areas which have traditionally had a high dependence on Community Employment Scheme"; but it is most unwelcome that vital social and community services are already suffering because CE projects are being cut, postponed or axed completely.

'While the government is committed to "a fundamental review of training and employment supports to ensure they focus on the needs of the most marginalised and disadvantaged", this commitment means nothing when cuts are implemented before the review takes place.'

Mr Conroy said that the INOU will maintain its campaign until the new government agrees to its three demands:

· A government guarantee that funding for the current minimum of 28,000 CE places be maintained until 2003, as agreed in the PPF.

· An immediate halt to the cuts, recruitment freezes and postponements being imposed on CE projects, except those directly linked to mainstreaming in education, and revocation of all CE project cuts, recruitment freezes and postponements that go beyond the national agreement.

· A government commitment that no action will be taken to reduce CE funding below the 28,000 level without agreement with the Social Partners on the reallocation of the resources to programmes that give greater benefit to the unemployed.

Separately, other measures in the Programme for Government welcomed by the INOU include: the introduction of new supports for those experiencing, or likely to experience, severe employability barriers, with a training fund of EUR2,500 per person on the High Support Programme; the extension of the Employment Action Plan to all persons on the live register longer than six months and the commitment to have FÁS engage with newly redundant workers to prevent people from drifting into long-term unemployment.

However, Mr Conroy added: 'We are concerned that the government appears to be watering down its commitment to a benchmark level of EUR150 for minimum weekly social welfare payments, by making it dependent on a future allocation of resources. We are also disappointed that, according to the new Programme for Government, workers on the national minimum wage will have to wait for up to five years before they are removed from the tax net.’