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20 Jan 2022

Strike action is underway at Job Club in Birr

The SIPTU picket line outside Birr Job Club on Monday morning. The Trade Union called on the government to reverse its callous decision.

A STRIKE action began on Monday morning at Birr Job Club on Brendan Street, Birr.
Present at the strike were the two employees at the Job Club, Catherine Greig and Celine England, SIPTU Divisional Organiser Adrian Kane and Cllrs John Carroll and Peter Ormond.
The Department of Social Protection announced at the beginning of November that it would be axing Job Clubs in Birr and Tullamore at the end of December, a decision which caused an outcry from many who see it as a move towards a more bureaucratic, less people-friendly service.
Four Job Clubs in total in Laois/Offaly are closing including Portarlington and Portlaoise as well.
This retrograde move had been in the wind for several months, since it was announced by the Department that it would be issuing a request for tender to expand local employment services in some regions.
Job Clubs are run by Local Development Companies (LDC) and serve the long term unemployed across Ireland.
Some in the LDC network see the Department's move as an attempt to replace the Job Club service with a new for-profit service that is not supported by any stakeholder group or research body in Ireland. Deputy Brian Stanley said the new model is a “ruthless shift” to a service which will put profit over people. "It's a ruthless move away from the person-centred approach so successfully fostered by these Job Clubs,” he stated.
Cllr John Carroll said it's a very retrograde step. “Birr Job Club in the Tech Centre was a friendly, people-oriented, walk-in service. It had a relatively informal atmosphere which worked well. Now the contract has been awarded to An Turas Nua (which has an office in Castle Buildings, Tullamore), which people are not happy about. An Turas Nua is a private company which is more bureaucratic and stricter. You can't just walk in. You have to make an appointment. Offaly Local Development Company has been running the Job Clubs in Birr and Tullamore for 22 years and the Clubs have done an excellent job. Their humane, intelligent approach has produced much success with many long-term unemployed managing to find good employment over the years.
“We were all very worried when we heard in May that the contract was going out to tender. In November our fears came to pass.”
The councillor said the news means that when the Job Clubs close for good at the end of December several people will be unemployed, including Catherine and Celine in Birr Job Club. “The employees in Birr Job Club,” added Cllr Carroll, “have built up a very good working relationship with many people. Their departure is a bad thing for Birr.”
Catherine told the Midland Tribune, when I talked to the workers at their picket on Monday morning, that since she and Celine received a letter from the Department of Social Protection that their jobs would be coming to an end at the end of December, they have been given no further update.
“We are told,” she said, “that Turas Nua plans to open offices in Birr and Edenderry as well as Tullamore, but we haven't been told when or where that will be happening, which means the people of Birr could be without a Job Club for months if not years.” She added that neither she or Celine have been offered jobs in Turas Nua. Catherine, who lives in Shinrone, worked for 21 years in Birr Jobs Club and Celine, who lives in Riverstown, worked for five years. After such excellent dedication and service they aren't being offered new jobs by the Department.
Adrian Kane told the Tribune that the government is coming under considerable pressure about this issue at the moment. “Last week an Oireachtas committee called for a cessation of this privatising, tender-seeking model. Last week Deputy Claire Kerrane's motion to suspend this current, privatising, tendering process was supported by the government. Deputy Kerrane rightly said it's hypocritical of the government to support her motion when they are still pressing ahead with the closure of the LDC Job Clubs.
“This is a two day strike this week outside our offices in Birr and Tullamore. Next week we'll be holding a three day strike. If there is still no positive governmental action then the following week we'll hold a four day strike. Today we are holding a protest outside Minister Humphreys' office. Many politicians from across the political spectrum agree with our cause. SIPTU has written to Turas Nua but they have refused to meet us. Healthy democracies, if they consider themselves to be healthy, shouldn't privatise job seeking services. England went down that path but they are rowing back on it. Why? Because it works nowhere near as well as what it's replacing.”
Catherine said she and Celine deal with 500 to 600 clients per year and enjoy a high success rate in the matter of finding jobs for their clients. “We provide individual supports, a 'drop in' service, CV preparation and formal workshops. It's a free service for job seekers to help them to obtain employment in the open labour market. Finding a job can be a daunting, challenge prospect. We try to ease the process as much as possible.”
Cllr Carroll added that the Job Clubs are linked to the Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP), which is a positive programme. “Now, with this new privatisation route that connection to a positive programme will be lost.” (SICAP provides funding to tackle poverty and social exclusion through local engagement and partnerships between disadvantaged individuals, community organisations and public sector agencies.)
“This is a sad thing for Birr,” he remarked. “The best programmes are community driven and operated on a bottom-up basis. The programmes which are centralised and top-down are considerably less successful. That's what's happening here. We are moving to a less successful model.”
Deputy Carol Nolan also criticised the move. She called on the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys to “provide a firm commitment to review any plans which include the threat of closing Birr Job Club. This is a scandalous decision and it must be urgently reconsidered. Birr Job Club has brought professional and person-centred services to the people of Birr and surrounding communities since 1999. Unfortunately, Birr Job Club is now falling foul along with many other local Job Clubs to a policy decision of the Department that prioritises the privatisation of these community services. I raised these matters with the Minister in May, along with the trade union body SIPTU, who had also organised a protest outside the Department's offices that called on the Minister to establish a stakeholder forum to resolve the issue.
“I have repeatedly made it clear that the recent history of handing over job support or local employment measures to private companies has been disastrous and it should not be replicated going forward. Indeed I was previously able to establish that the current Jobpath programme is delivered by two private companies – Seetec Limited and Turas Nua Limited who have had total amounts paid to them by the state of just over a quarter billion euros or €247.9 million. I will once again make it clear to the Minister and this government, who seem intent on removing community-based services, that we must resist this model of job and employment support. Not only because it is dreadful value for money, but more importantly, because it simply does not offer the kind of local and person-centred service that many unemployed people need and want.”
The Deputy pointed out that people do not want impersonal and heartless “employment activation” companies standing over them. “These are companies that see unemployed people as little more than numbers without any of the appreciation of how complex it can be to manage employment and other life commitments.”
Cllr. Peter Ormond also said he regretted the end of the Job Clubs. He pointed out that in the spring the Minister for Social Protection announced that her Department would seek Local Employment Services going to public tender on a cost bid basis. He commented that the Job Club in Birr Town and other areas had been providing an excellent service since the late 1990s and the current model had served the communities very well.
He added that he witnessed first-hand the work that the Birr Job Club has done since it opened. “It provided people with a professional service in their time of looking for job opportunities and career advancement.
“I feel that this is a retrograde step for the community. The service the job club provided was far more holistic than what is proposed under the new tender. The job club offered career advice and other life supports towards their clients in a non-profit making model.”
The councillor paid tribute to all the staff of Job Club for “their courtesy and professionalism over the years.”

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