17. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the progress on his Department’s discussion with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in relation to the implementation of Labour Court recommendation, LRC 19293, regarding the rights of community employment scheme supervisors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 47334/17 asked on 09 Nov 2017)
Deputy Dara Calleary: Just before the Halloween recess there was an all-party gathering on a Topical Issue concerning the issue I am raising in relation to community employment scheme supervisors. That was held in advance of what was a planned meeting of the forum that was established in the Department to address the pension issue. That meeting was postponed and I gather it will now happen later in November. I want to understand the reasons for the postponement and I would like to tease out with the Minister the status of the plans to deal with this issue that were put in place by the Minister’s predecessor, Deputy Howlin.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 17 together.
Following a meeting with SIPTU and IMPACT trade unions in late 2015, the community sector high level forum, which had ceased operation some years earlier, was reconvened by my predecessor, Deputy Brendan Howlin, in order to fully examine certain issues pertaining to the community employment sector, having regard to the consequences for costs and precedent.
An issue which has been under discussion by the forum relates to community employment supervisors and assistant supervisors who have been seeking, through their union representatives, the allocation of Exchequer funding to implement a Labour Court recommendation relating to the provision of a pension scheme. The Labour Court recommendation was issued on 22 July 2008 following a hearing on 11 July 2008 in relation to a claim on behalf of community employment scheme supervisors and assistant supervisors supported by IMPACT and SIPTU. FÁS, the then funder of the community employment schemes, was not a party to the Labour Court hearing on the matter.
At the most recent forum meeting, in April of this year, my Department outlined its intention to conduct a detailed scoping exercise in order to comprehensively examine and assess the full potential implications of the issues under consideration. In considering the particular matter referred to, regard must be had to the costs and precedent of such an arrangement were one to be created. A scoping exercise is currently being progressed by officials in this Department and should be completed by the end of this year. A meeting of the forum has been arranged to discuss the scoping exercise in the coming weeks.
It continues to be the position that State organisations are not the employer of the particular employees concerned and that it is not possible for the State to provide funding for such a scheme. The employees in question are, or were, employees of private companies, notwithstanding the fact that the companies concerned are, or were, reliant on State funding. In considering the matter, regard must be had to costs and the precedent of such an arrangement were one to be created given that the individuals employed in that sector are not employed by the State, even if the services they provide are funded by the State.
Deputy Dara Calleary: First, FÁS was part of the Labour Court hearing. It made submissions to the Labour Court hearing in 2008. The court’s recommendation refers to the fact that the court has considered the submissions made to it by the direct parties, that is, the supervisors and by the funding agency, namely, FÁS. It also said that FÁS acknowledged that the provision of pensions was regarded as a legitimate cost in the cases of employees in community training workshop so FÁS was very much part of the hearing and was very much aware of the implications of that hearing. It put €10 million aside.
We understand a pathway was laid out with a view to resolving this issue without knocking on other claims, which is something we are all legitimately concerned about. I understand the previous Minister, Deputy Howlin, had tried to lay out a pathway to do that before he completed his term of office. We are talking about people who have given enormous service to their community. The quality of a CE scheme is dependent on the supervisor. Many of them are now coming to pensionable age with nothing to show for their service. We need to address this issue once and for all.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I have three points to make in response. The information I have, which of course I will check given the point the Deputy made, is that FÁS was not at the Labour Court and had not consented to the matter being taken to the Labour Court for determination. Given that Deputy Calleary has information to the contrary on that point I will take that into account but the information I have is pretty clear in that regard.
The second point I would make is that Deputy Calleary should think about where we were at that point in time. It was 2008 and we had had a number of years of rapid economic growth. The FÁS organisation was a significant beneficiary of much of that economic growth across that period. In the many years in which significant resources were available, leading right up to the crash period, a pathway was not found to resolve that issue. The reason for that is as I outlined earlier in my initial reply to the Deputy, and also the fact that despite what he said regarding it being possible to settle one matter without having knock-on claims elsewhere, he knows how difficult it is to do that. When one makes progress in one area, within seconds of that progress being made there are other groups who legitimately feel that if one can do something for one group, in particular when it comes to industrial relations, that one has got to do the same for another group.
Deputy Calleary has a lot of experience in this area and he will appreciate the challenge this matter poses, in particular when we have so many other organisations, especially in the health service who are in a similar situation in that we have people working within them who are dependent on funding from the State to provide the service but are not employed by the State. For those reasons the scoping process to which I referred has been set up to get an understanding of the number of people we are talking about and the cost involved in dealing with the matter. The process is under way and will be complete by the end of the year.
I do not know why the forum meeting was deferred a few weeks ago but I imagine it had something to do with all the work that was under way in relation to the FEMPI legislation. I will ensure that the commitment on the next meeting is upheld.
Deputy Dara Calleary: I understand the complexities but there is a Labour Court recommendation and one cannot have the Government on the one hand advising companies to listen to the Labour Court, even though it is a voluntary system, while it ignores recommendations concerning itself, in particular now that the Minister with responsibility for employment, is in charge of social protection schemes and, by extension, is also in charge of the Labour Court.
Will the outcome of the scoping process be ready for the end of November or is it the end of the year? Will the officials be in a position to table the scoping document at the forum meeting at the end of November?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: My understanding is that the scoping exercise will be completed by the end of the year but I am hopeful that the next forum meeting will be able to discuss where it is and if the conclusion of the scoping process is not available by then at least my officials will be able to give a good update of where the work stands. If the scoping exercise cannot be brought to a conclusion in time for the next forum meeting I am sure a further forum meeting will be organised either later in the year or early next year to give the full update on where that work stands.