State accused of reneging on redundant Dell workers

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

HUNDREDS of former Dell workers in Limerick who enrolled in education courses just six months ago have said their future is hanging in the balance again.

HUNDREDS of former Dell workers in Limerick who enrolled in education courses just six months ago have said their future is hanging in the balance again.

Currently they have been informed that no funds will be forthcoming for Dell’s ex-workers from the Government and EU through the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) from this June. The Dell Redundant Workers Association (DRWA) said some of the 200 students who were in receipt of funding are now at risk of dropping out of education.

The Department of Education and Skills said it is aware of the issues raised by the group and is “actively examining all relevant aspects.” The department said the scheme has seen considerable progress, including providing occupational assistance to 2,300 people.

A spokesperson for the DRWA said “it is now expected that around €14 million of the €22.8 million fund may be left unspent and returned to Brussels” due to bureaucratic guidelines instead of helping unemployed workers.

Spokesperson Gerry Hinchy said workers were promised that a second year of study would be funded under the programme but said the Department of Education “did a U-turn” on their agreement and according to the latest correspondence it is due to expire on June 28.

The re-training and educational project was due to be run over two years, but Mr Hinchy said “inaction by the Government” led to a delay of eight months in receiving the funding.

It is estimated that some 200 former Dell workers have pursued studies in Limerick and elsewhere since 2,000 jobs were axed at the Dell’s Limerick plant in Limerick in 2009 and transferred to a lower cost base in Lodz, Poland.

Some six former Dell workers also began Masters’ programmes at the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology since funding became available last September.

But the DRWA said they were told in December that the students should “seek alternative funding” if they wanted to continue with their respective courses.

Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea said he is “disappointed with treatment meted out to Dell ex-workers association”, but is hopeful that the situation could be resolved by the end of this week.

The party’s new communications spokesperson claimed “there’s one or two civil servants in the Department holding up this” and said he finds it “extraordinary” that “two middle grade civil servants can thwart it”.

Deputy O’Dea said he saw the correspondence required to receive the funding, but said it’s not very transparent.

“All it says it that there was a competitor against you and you can’t see who it was. There’s no justification as to why or how the marks were calculated,” he said.

Fine Gael deputy Kieran O’Donnell has labelled the situation as “crazy”, and has written to Tanaiste Mary Coughlan requesting that a review of the rules of the EGF be commenced without delay “with a view to providing funding for these people”.

“Those who started courses with EGF support had a reasonable expectation that they would be supported to see out their studies,” he said.

Former Dell worker John McMahon, a computer science student at Griffith College in Limerick, said “it is a disgrace that these students are now facing into their year one exams with no certainty that they will have access to funding for their future years.”

“This fund gave them all hope for their future and these students made the hard decision to return to full-time education,” said Mr McMahon.

“The situation now is that they now have one year of their full time course nearly completed and do not know if their remaining fees will be covered.

“There was considerable time-wasting in the administration of this funding after the announcement and so much valuable time was lost that resulted in huge delays for students being able to access the funding,” he said.

Furthermore, Mr Hinchy said a group of 10 people who have handled affairs for the workers are being “messed about” and are due a cumulative €28,000 from the Government in expenses, but are still awaiting payment “after being audited by about four different departments.”