The Department of Social Protection has been accused of trying to replace community-led local employment services and jobs clubs with an “untested” scheme relying on private companies.
The Irish Local Development Network (ILDN), who represent 49 non-profit community organisations that provide employment services and supports, criticised the planned changes.
Community groups and trade unions are strongly opposed to what they maintain are moves by the Department of Social Protection to allow private companies to bid, as part of a tender process, for new State contracts to run programmes to assist people getting back into the workforce.
Speaking on Saturday, Martina Earley, chair of the ILDN’s committee on future employment services, said the department was seeking to “tear down” the current system of community-led local employment services.
Ms Earley said under the proposed plans this would be replaced with “an untested, unproven, centralised profit-driven model of delivery”.
“Our local employment services work for their communities, for jobseekers and for employers,” she said.
“The ILDN is calling on the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, to engage in a meaningful way with the local partnerships and local development companies in drawing up proposals for the future of employment services,” she said.
“Such an approach seeks to build on our twenty-five years’ experience providing these services rather than tear it down with the stroke of a pen,” she said.
Ms Earley was speaking at an event in the Mansion House, hosted by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland, to mark the 25th anniversary of local employment services and jobs clubs.
Ms Gilliland, a Labour Party councillor, said she was “deeply concerned” about the threat to the future of local employment services.
The current model of employment supports was working well for vulnerable people, “to ensure no one falls through the cracks,” she said.
“As the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and responds to the new challenges facing the country, I believe that it is essential we keep the person-centred approach to local employment services as provided by our local partnerships,” she said.
Ms Humphreys told the Dáil in July that she was obliged for “good governance and public procurement rules” to put the local employment services contracts out for tender.
The Minister insisted that “it is wrong to look at this tender as a move away from a not-for-profit model to a payment-by-result model”.
She added: “I have to put this out for tender”, but “we have put a strong focus on the connections with the local community providers and there is no reason why they can’t continue to be successful.”