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Friday 9 December 2016

Partnership legacy means taxpayers give millions to unions for 'training schemes'

Published 04/07/2010 | 05:00

THE Government is paying millions of euro to trade unions and organisations for training schemes and talk shops as part of deals that were brokered during the heady days of partnership.

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The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), the employer's body, Ibec, and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) together shared €1.09m over three years from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment.

Ictu received €384,892 from the department in three years to fund seminars, research and training programmes promoting "workplace innovation".

Ibec, received €599,434 under the scheme and the CIF €134,000.

On top of its €384,892 grant, Ictu also collected €12.3m in eight years from the same department to fund training and advice to union officials. However, the department pointed out that the grant was in existence for 25 years and pre-dated the social partnership agreements.

Ictu also collected €1.2m from Fas, the State employment agency, between August 2008 and January 2010 after winning a contract to manage a "Union Learning Initiative". The initiative, which started in 2008, is worth €3.89m over three years and is paid directly out of the Fas budget. The money is spent on training union activists in encouraging low-skilled colleagues to "engage with learning" and didn't involve foreign travel.

The funds paid to trade unions have come under scrutiny after it emerged that much of a €2.35m fund -- an estimated €250,000 a year -- channelled by the HSE into a Siptu bank account has not been accounted for, prompting investigations by the Fraud Squad, the Department of Health and internal inquiries in the HSE and Siptu.

The HSE audited the account for the first time last year. The audit found incomplete records to account for how the money was spent although records were found for taxis and foreign trips.

The matter was further complicated when Siptu's head office claimed it never got the money. An audit report that has now been passed to the Garda Fraud Squad criticised the HSE for poor financial controls governing the scheme.

The money came out of a €12m a year fund for a skills programme to train up lower-grade health workers.

For reasons yet to be publicly explained by the Department of Health, €250,000 of those funds were diverted to a bank account opened in Siptu's name.

Matt Merrigan, a veteran union activist in the health sector who had access to the account, is likely to be interviewed by Siptu next week. He was on sick leave since last year after a serious accident left him hospitalised for several months. He is due to return to work. Friends close to the union activist are adamant that none of the money has been misappropriated.

It is believed that funds were drawn on a cheque book from the account and there were no cash withdrawals. Cheque stubs itemising the payments are believed to have been stored in an office in Liberty Hall, according to sources.

The HSE appointed a former head of Ibec, Turlough O'Sullivan, to investigate the administration of its funds to the skills programme.

The Department of Health refused to say this weekend how much money it gave to trade unions. However, in addition to funding the €12m-a-year skills programme and the €250,000-a-year slush fund, the taxpayer pays €4.9m a year to fund the HSE Partnership Forum. A talk shop aimed at boosting relationships between health managers and unions activists, the forum has been in existence since 2000.

Participants in the forum, who include union activists and health managers, are entitled to claim expenses for their participation and the forum has funded a number of foreign trips, conferences and accommodation for members.

The forum's aims include "championing" partnership in the health service and ensuring that the interests of all its members are discussed at the partnership table.

However, the notion of partnership has collapsed after the failure of "social partnership" talks on cuts and recent industrial action.

Sunday Independent

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