Thursday, 22 December 2011

Hands Off Community Employment!

Thousands of Community Employment workers throughout the State have made their voices heard in response to government plans to implement a 66% cut to funding for all CE schemes. Course Participants, supervisors and service users have united to lobby TD’s of all political parties and vent their anger over budget cuts. Materials and training grants for schemes providing vital services to children, the elderly, the disabled and disadvantaged have been slashed from €1500 per participant to just €500 for next year leaving many schemes struggling to survive in their present format.

CE workers have also registered their total opposition to government plans to reduce payments to future course participants who are lone parents or disabled. 

A powerful Dail protest-arranged with just 24 hours’ notice- brought close to 1000 onto the streets outside of Dail Eireann for a demonstration of the depth of concern among communities battling hard to build a better future for their families, friends and neighbours.

Their message has resonated with representatives from across the political spectrum-including government parties- and on Thursday in response to workers concerns Tánaiste Eamonn Gilmore made a statement to the Dail in which he pledged that “the Government is not closing down any CE Schemes.”
Backbench Labour TD Eric Byrne called for community workers to be given a voice in the decision making process going forward and called for tripartite discussions involving the government, employers and unions across the sector.
While welcoming these statements as a sign of progress on the issues at hand community workers still have major concerns with regard to “value for money reviews” which are to be undertaken from the New Year with regard to all Community Employment schemes.

Commenting on this development SIPTU Sector Organiser Darragh O’Connor said “These reviews need to be more than a narrow accounting exercise designed to undermine the basis of funding for schemes. Any such review needs to take a broad view and recognise the value not just to course participants but also to local communities through the provision of vital services that otherwise would just not exist”. 

There also remains great anger with regard to the injustice of penalising lone parents and people with disabilities with regard to future participation in Community Employment programmes.
Colette Roberts commenced a CE scheme at the Oaktree Crèche in Finglas last August and is working towards a FETAC recognised qualification in Childcare.

“The extra money I earn as a CE participant made it possible for me to join this course. Without it I would not have been able to pay for childcare. It gives me a route to working full time and not having to rely on social welfare in the long term. If that additional money is not available to new CE workers who are lone parents where is the incentive for people to join the course?”
Frances Byrne, Chief Executive of OPEN representing lone parents in Ireland summarised the impact of these changes on one parent families: “According to official statistics lone parents are Ireland’s poorest families and have already been hit with deep cuts to their social welfare payments in the last three budgets. This disgraceful decision to abolish family payments for those who take up Community Employment will mean fewer and fewer lone parents will be able to move from welfare to work, this consigning our families to worsening poverty and deprivation.”

Speaking immediately after the protest outside the Dail, Helena McNeill, a community worker in inner city Dublin and President of SIPTU’s Community sector concluded “I think it’s essential that the government immediately remove the uncertainty over future funding of Community Employment schemes. They also need to reverse their decision re cutting payments to lone parents and the disabled. Finally workers need to recognise the importance of being organised. All Community Workers should be members of a trade union. It’s quite simple-if community workers aren’t organised they cannot fight back and defend their jobs, their services and their communities.”

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