Rank hypocrisy from Government on CE pensions – Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has accused the government of ‘rank hypocrisy’ when it comes to a Labour Court ruling about pension entitlements for CE supervisors.
Speaking today in the Seanad, the Galway West – South Mayo Senator says:
“The public and Government Ministers alike are rightly outraged at the unfair pension regime for certain women due to changes in eligibility criteria in 2012. This minority government have been presiding over another inequality in relation to pension provisions for Community Employment Scheme supervisors.
“In 2008, a Labour Court ruling found that a pension scheme should be introduced for CE supervisors and should be funded by FÁS, but subsequent Ministers including the current Taoiseach have failed to do so.
"The CE functions of FÁS have transferred to the Department of Social Protection and the Ministers in that department have also failed to implement the findings.
“This means that there is huge uncertainty for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors as to where they stand, what pension entitlements they have and this is grossly unfair.
“When questioned by my Sinn Féin party colleagues in 2011, the then Minister Joan Burton said a scheme to address this would cost around €33m. But neither she, Leo Varadkar, Michael Noonan nor Pascal Donoghue have righted this wrong since.
“The government are shirking their responsibilities to these highly valued workers. But they are also sending a worrying message to other employers that Labour Court rulings can be flagrantly ignored.
“The government has kicked to touch to a ‘forum’ to ‘scope’ the issues. They didn’t need to do that in FÁS when €48m was spent on ‘advertising’ and when giving an outgoing director general there a €1.4m package.
“The government need to implement the Labour Court recommendation immediately and show these workers the respect they deserve.”
Fimíneacht dochreidte ón Rialtas faoi pinsin do saoistí Scéimeanna Fostaíochta Pobail - An tSeanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
Tá sé curtha i leith an rialtas go bhfuil ‘fimíneacht dochreidte’ ar siúl acu i dtaobh cinneadh ón gCúirt Oibreachais i 2008 maidir le cearta pinsin do saoistí Scéimeanna Fostaíochta Pobail.
Ag labhairt dó inniu sa Seanad, deir Seanadóir Ghaillimh Thiar – Maigh Eo Theas:
“Tá fearg dhá léiriú ag daoine agus Airí Rialtais agus údar acu, maidir le réimeas pinsin éagórach a tugadh isteach i 2012. Ach, tá siad féin freagrach as éagóir eile maidir le cearta pinsin do saoistí ar Scéimeanna Fostaíochta Pobail dá gcuid.
“I 2008 rialaigh an Chúirt Oibreachais gur cheart scéim pinsean a thabhairt isteach do na Saoistí Fostaíochta Pobail agus gur chóir do FÁS íoc as agus tá teipthe ar Airí éagsúla, an Taoiseach reatha ina measc, an rialú sin a fhíorú.
"Tá cúraimí na Scéimeanna Fostaíochta Pobail aistrithe ó shin chuig an Roinn Coimirce Sóisialaí agus tá teipthe ar Airí éagsúla sa roinn céanna an rialú a chur i bhfeidhm.
“Ciallaíonn sé seo go bhfuil mí-chinnteacht ollmhór ann do na saoistí agus leas saoistí seo, mar níl fhios acu cá seasann siad, nó cé na cearta pinsin atá acu agus níl sé sin ceart.
“I 2011, nuair a cheistigh comhghleacaithe de mo chuid as Sinn Féin an tAire ag an am, Joan Burton, deir sí go gcosnódh sé €33m an scéal a chur ina cheart. Ach, níor cheartaigh sí féin, Leo Varadkar, Michael Noonan ná Pascal Donoghue an éagóir seo ó shoin.
“Tá an rialtas ag teip ina gcuid dualgais i leith na h-oibrithe seo a bhfuil ardmheas orthu sna pobail. Ach, níos measa arís b’fhéidir, tá siad ag cur teachtaireacht an-chontúirteach amach d’fhostóirí gur féidir neamhaird iomlán a dhéanamh ar bhreithiúnais de chuid na Cúirte Oibreachais.
“Tá na caora curtha thar abhann ag an rialtas agus an cheist seo curtha faoi bhráid ‘fóram’ acu chun ‘scópáil’ a dhéanamh air. Ní raibh aon ghá dóibh sin a dhéanamh i FÁS nuair a caitheadh €48m ar ‘fhógraíocht’ agus áit ar tugadh ‘pacáiste scoir’ de luach €1.4m do Stiúrthóir Ginearálta.
“Caithfidh an rialtas breith na Cúirte Oibreachais a chur i bhfeidhm láithreach agus an t-ómós cuí a thabhairt do na h-oibrithe iontach luachmhar seo”.
Note: Téacs iomlán na díospóireachta – Full text of debate follows
Community Employment Schemes Supervisor
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, atá ina chuairteoir rialta ar an Teach seo, bail ó Dhia air. Tá mé ag ardú ceist inniu a bhaineann leis na maoirseoirí ar na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail ar fud na tíre agus lena gcuid cearta pinsin. There is, rightly, a whole debate under way about pension entitlements and changes which were brought in in 2012, but I want to draw the Minister of State's attention to another pension inequality which was brought to Government's attention long before 2012. I am told the Minister of State has been talking about this issue for quite a while, but we have not seen anything done in respect of it. I was contacted by a constituent, on behalf of her mother who is a community employment scheme supervisor and is due to retire, in respect of the Labour Court recommendation, LCR19293, dated 22 July 2008, which determined that "an agreed pension scheme should be introduced for Community Employment Scheme Supervisors and Assistant Supervisors" and that such a scheme "should be adequately funded by FÁS". Following LCR19293, supervisors around the country understood that their pension rights were secured, but this woman, who is due to retire soon, has no pension provision, unlike her public sector peers. This matter has repeatedly been brought to the attention of the Departments of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Public Expenditure and Reform but there has been no clarity on the future pension entitlements of these people who have served their communities and the country. We often hear Senators say how wonderful our CE schemes and the people who work in them are, so the issue really must be addressed.
As far back as 17 November 2011, Deputies Ó Caoláin and Pearse Doherty raised this issue with the then Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, who said that the cost of the introduction of any scheme would likely be of the order of €3 million, with retrospective costs in the region of at least €30 million. At that stage, Deputy Burton said there was an issue because we did not have the money in the State coffers to pay for it. Given that we have now an economic recovery and are told that we have emerged from recession and in light of the fact that CE played a supporting role in this regard, is it not appropriate that the issue be reviewed because the excuse to which I refer is no longer applicable?
I am informed that the woman to whom this matter relates did not make alternative pension provision because she always believed that provision - as obtained by other parties recognised under LRC 19293 - would be made through equivalent channels.
Other Deputies also raised this issue in 2011. A point of discussion arising out of that is the basis on which the Department can reject liability for these costs - to be met from public funds - falling on it as a result of the ruling of the Labour Court. The Department assumed responsibility for CE schemes from FÁS following the controversy in respect of the spending of resources by that agency, most notably, €48 million on advertising and, to add insult to injury, a retirement package for the director general - enhanced by €1.4 million - to leave five years early. The source for that information is the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. Using the Minister's own valuations, such expenditure would have adequately funded the spine of FÁS - the CE supervisors - until 2018. Does the Government not have a responsibility to the workers who embodied the true ethos of FÁS during that period?
Our current Taoiseach was Minister for Social Protection in 2016 when this issue was raised with him in the context of a CE scheme. He referred to places relating to that scheme being amalgamated and the issues of redundancy needing to be discussed. He obviously took on board the fact that this was an issue for the Department to at least examine.
I am told that the community sector high-level forum was convened and met on a number of occasions to give consideration to the issues involved. In that context and in light of the number of occasions on which this matter has been raised, will the Minister of State clarify the position? Aside from this working group being given another name, has a chair been appointed? What has the group achieved in the past two years? What were the objectives, targets and outcomes achieved? Do minutes of the meetings of this group exist and can they be made public? What budget was designated for it and why have we not seen any movement on this issue? I know the Minister of State appreciates the CE schemes. It is a bit hypocritical of Ministers - including the line Minister - to talk about the anomaly in the pensions system that has been the subject of discussion in recent days without seeking to address the anomaly to which I refer. I hope that a resolution can be found.
Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government Damien English: I thank Senator Ó Clochartaigh for raising this matter. I apologise that the line Minister cannot be present to deal with it.
The community sector high-level forum was reconvened in 2015 by the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to examine certain issues pertaining to the community employment sector, having regard to the consequences for costs and precedent. This includes community and 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 dating back to 2008.
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. At the most recent forum meeting in April, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform 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. This exercise is currently being progressed and will be completed shortly. The next meeting of the high-level forum will take place on 2 November and the results of the scoping exercise will be made available to its members on that date.
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 it to provide funding for such a scheme. The employees are, or were, employed by 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 in view of the fact that the individuals employed in that sector are not employed by the State, even if many of the services they provide are funded by the State and are certainly essential because we can all see the benefits of the great work they do. There is, however, a desire to discuss the matter and arrive at an outcome.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: The Government is engaging in rank hypocrisy in this regard. There is a legal basis to say that when programmes are directed and funded by the State - and the State really controls all the elements relating to the employment of those people - it has a de facto responsibility to recognise that fact. There has been a Labour Court ruling on the matter. Is the Government really saying that it does not need to abide by such rulings? What kind of precedent does that set for all the other people who have taken cases to the Labour Court? It is disgraceful that the Government would provide that type of example. In light of what is being said about other pension issues at present, the Government really needs to look at this scenario because people are retiring. It needs to rectify the situation and tell the group that is convening to make its deliberations far more quickly and resolve these issues for those people who, while we are speaking here, have no idea where they stand as regard their pension entitlements.
Deputy Damien English: It is best to let the forum do its work. It was convened by the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and will meet again in November. A process is in place.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: How long is it going to take?
Deputy Damien English: It is only a few weeks away. It is best to let that continue and see what comes out of it. We can debate the matter further at a later date. Again, I apologise. The Minister was caught up in the Dáil and could not be here to take the debate. The Senator must understand that a process is in place and it is best to let that continue its work for now.