Fitzmaurice raises alarm over changes to Community Employment rules

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Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice has said that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is trying to change the employment rights of Community Employment (CE) scheme workers.

Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Fitzmaurice said that Community Employment scheme workers do incredible work, especially in rural areas.

“The work they do for Tidy Towns and making Ireland look better is commendable,” the Independent TD said.

He noted that according to the Scheme’s procedures manual, people over the age of 55 who joined the scheme before July 3, 2017 are entitled to stay on the scheme for up to six years consecutively, if they so wish.

However, the Department is attempting to treat people who joined the scheme under those criteria the same as people who joined under new rules, Deputy Fitzmaurice claimed, forcing them to take a year out after three years, and then reapply to the scheme.

“We now face situations where people who are eligible under the guidelines, the gospel that is given to the CE scheme supervisors, to stay on schemes for six years must take a year out and reapply.”

“The Department cannot have its bible of rules and regulations that everyone adheres to and six months or a year later try to move the goal posts.”

“There are some 19,500 people on the scheme around the country and, unfortunately, about 1,500 to 2,000 vacancies. People adhered to all the regulations as did the supervisors who took them on.”

The Community Employment Scheme is designed to help people who are long term unemployed, or otherwise disadvantaged, get back into work by offering part-time and temporary placements in jobs based within local communities.

The Roscommon-Galway TD noted that CE workers and the schemes they are involved in “play a key role in combating social and rural isolation”.

Deputy Fitzmaurice said that the Department could be leaving itself open to legal challenge if it continues along this path.

The issue was raised during Leaders Questions in the Dáil on Thursday, and Deputy Fitzmaurice asked Tánaiste Leo Varadkar to speak with Minister Humphreys about this issue.

Tánaiste Varadkar said that he would reach out to the Minister, and also praised the “valuable work” done by community employment schemes in the areas of Tidy Towns, Meals on Wheels, community centres, and sports clubs.

“It also provides valuable work experience for people to help them get on a pathway to work, education or training.”

However, he added that there should be “churn and turnover” in the schemes, and that people should not be staying on them for years, as “we need those opportunities to be made available to others and we need people to move on, using their experience of the CE scheme, to mainstream employment or other training and education opportunities”.