A group of 12 Fianna Fáil TDs and senators have written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, asking him to intervene in plans by Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys to phase out the current system of local employment services.
In a letter written by former Fianna Fáil minister Dara Calleary and signed by 11 of his colleagues, Mr Martin is asked to contact Ms Humphreys over what they fear is her plan for a new “profit-driven” employment service.
Details of the letter emerged after around 100 local employment service staff protested outside the Dáil this week over what they branded the “privatisation” of the sector.
Campaigners have said Ms Humphreys’ plan will deprive unemployed people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic of “walk-in, person-centred, community-based employment services” along with other additional supports provided by Local Employment Services (LES) and Job Clubs.
The Irish Local Development Network (ILDN), which represents the sector, said jobseekers will be faced with a “centralised, profit-driven, results-based process” that will not be accessible to all those without jobs” if Ms Humphreys’ system becomes the norm.
In his letter to the Taoiseach on July 28, Mr Calleary said: “The Local Employment Service is a vital service in communities across the country. It is a far more holistic service than a standard profit-driven employment service.
“In my engagements with LES nationwide, I have been struck by the length of service that those who work in it have achieved across the existing LES.”
The Mayo TD said the Fianna Fáil group has “serious concerns” that the tendering process developed by Ms Humphreys will mean existing employment services will not be able to successfully re-tender for their service and staff who have worked for decades in the area will lose their jobs.
Mr Calleary said the group has “genuinely-held fears” that LES will be turned into in a profit-driven system such as the JobPath programme that Fianna Fáil criticised while in opposition.
The letter was signed by Fianna Fáil TDs Jennifer Murnane O’Connor, Paul McAuliffe, Cormac Devlin, Brendan Smith, Willie O’Dea, Éamon Ó Cuív and Jackie Cahill along with senators Erin McGreehan, Paul Daly, Pat Casey, Ollie Crowe and Mary Fitzpatrick.
The group met representatives of the sector before sending their letter to Mr Martin.
The Taoiseach responded to Mr Calleary, saying he would speak with Ms Humphreys about the new scheme and get back to him.
A tendering process for areas of the country without employment services is almost complete, and it is expected existing providers will soon have to re-tender to continue operating.
Ms Humphreys has received advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher, saying she is required to seek tenders for existing services under EU law.
In a statement, her department said: “The LES contracts have been rolled over continuously for over two decades.
“The clear advice from the Chief State Solicitor’s Office, from the C&AG [Comptroller and Auditor General] and from the Attorney General is that the Department of Social Protection is in breach of EU procurement rules and there needs to be a competitive procurement process for these contracts.”