A Gateway to Work?
21 Feb 2014
“Of key concern to the INOU is the selection process for this new initiative,” noted John Stewart, INOU Co-ordinator. “Potential participants will not have the choice to opt in, rather they will be selected by their local Social Welfare / Intreo Office and sent for interview to the relevant Local Authority,” he continued.
The INOU is concerned about this process for a number of reasons. Firstly, the principle of choice should be an integral part of employment services and a key role of the local Social Welfare / Intreo Office should be to work with people to identify the best option for them. This option could be employment, an education, training or employment programme depending on the individual unemployed person’s needs and opportunities in their local area.
Secondly, employment programmes should be designed in a manner that reflects the reality of the wider labour market i.e. no-one is going to send anyone to a job, the jobseeker will have to find the job themselves but good information and supports will be critical to this search. So employment programmes should have an opt-in mechanism with an application and selection process that is similar to finding work in the open labour market.
Thirdly, sanctions should only be used as an absolute last resort and indeed should be seen by the system as failure on their part to engage constructively with unemployed people. If an unemployed person feels the option on offer is meaningless and will not enhance their chances of securing a decent job, this must be listened to and addressed constructively.
And so to the INOU’s fourth point, that the Department of Social Protection, who now have the National Employment Service, must promote their employment programmes and their potential to the wider labour market. In particular, they must ensure the work undertaken and skills developed by the participants are highlighted and that other employers appreciate this and look to these schemes as places to source good employees.
And finally, what unemployed people want is fully paid employment, and so serious consideration must be given to lifting the Public Service recruitment embargo and give the workers employed through Gateway, a serious opportunity to secure a decent job.
What is Gateway?
The Gateway programme was first announced in Budget 2013 with a target of 3,000 places within City and County Councils. It has taken more than a year to get this programme up and running and even with that, the full complement of places will not come on stream before the end of the year.
Gateway is targeted at a particular group of unemployed people: those who have been unemployed for more than two years; have been in receipt of a Jobseekers payment; and are now in receipt of a Jobseekers Allowance (the means tested payment).
Given the nature of much of the work envisaged under this scheme, the Department of Social Protection; D/Environment, Community and Local Government; and the Local Authorities clearly imagine this scheme being more attractive to people who have previously worked in the construction and related industries.
The terms and conditions of this scheme are very similar to Community Employment and Tús: participants are expected to work 19.5 hours a week; they will be paid a minimum of €208; and where applicable, they will retain their secondary benefits. Gateway is exempt from the Universal Social Charge but depending on the participant’s circumstances tax and PRSI may apply.