Fears community scheme will replace staff in Limerick’s local authorities

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

ALTHOUGH local authority manager Conn Murray says a new community employment scheme will “complement” existing council staff, there are fears front-line council workers will be replaced.

ALTHOUGH local authority manager Conn Murray says a new community employment scheme will “complement” existing council staff, there are fears front-line council workers will be replaced.

In a move union officials fear could lead to a “low economy work force”, the manager of the Limerick local authorities Conn Murray has indicated he is ready to use the Community Employment (CE) Scheme to “complement” staff on the council.

The scheme, designed to help the long-term unemployed get back to work, can pay as little as €208 a week, under rules set down by the Department of Social Protection. And with around a quarter of the 1,000 jobs expected to go in Limerick’s new merged authority before 2014, unions fear key workers like street cleaners, and maintenance crews could be replaced with participants on the CE scheme.

Unions are seeking urgent talks with management at City Hall over the issue, which they fear could see unskilled workers effectively doing skilled work.

Under government proposals, around 10,000 positions are expected to become available nationally.

And Mr Murray indicated he will use many of these to work with the outdoor sections of both councils, struggling in recent years to cope with increased workloads, due to non-renewal of contracts, and non-replacement of jobs.

“I would hope we would avail significantly of that throughout the county and city, in order to complement the work our people are doing,” he said.

He stressed: “It would be complementing core work, not doing core work itself.”

But at a meeting of the Limerick Trades Council this week, opposition to the scheme was vocal, with president Mike McNamara saying: “We are very mindful of the fact that they may become a replacement for permanent employment.”

“The terminology used was outdoor staff. That could take in people working in depots, people working on the roads and cleaning.”

He said the move is: “very worrying for the trade union movement. What would have been quality employment for our members, in turn giving work back to the end user, is being eroded by the use of this scheme.”

Under the CE scheme, each project has to be signed off by unions.

But there are fears that because more than one union is in place in the public service, there could be disparities, and many employment schemes may fall below their radar. Mr McNamara expressed doubt over Mr Murray’s promise that only “non-core” council work will be covered by the CE scheme.

“Would that be his definition, or our definition? At present, and over the last number of years, when determining issues surrounding non-core work, we have had issues which have had to go to conciliation, because of the intransigeance of certain people in the council,” he said.

Andy Pike, of the Mandate trade union, and Michael Kiely of SIPTU said that City Council had not taken out outdoor operative staff for between 20 and 25 years.

And Mark Quinn, of SIPTU’s construction division, said the council are adopting the scheme in order to “ramp up” their general operative staff.

“Too many workers will be affected by this. They will have industrial relations issues. We are talking about the most vulnerable, underpaid, and easy to exploit people,” he said.