•Jobs Club / LES protests in Dublin

The first national protest march since the pandemic struck by people in the Community Sector took place on September 6 in Dublin – over the looming privatisation of an essential service used by thousands of people annually.

A week later, on Sept 13, SIPTU members working in Local Employment Services (LES) and Job Clubs,  staged a protest outside the opening of the ‘think-in’ of the Fine Gael parliamentary party in Trim Castle, Co. Meath, “to highlight their opposition to the privatisation of the sector”.

                                                              • Ballyfermot Chapelizod’s LES/Jobs Club says: The unemployed are not for sale

Staff first grew concerned in May when the Department of Social Protection issued a tender in relation to the provision of employment support services in counties Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Offaly, Laois, Longford and Westmeath.

The march on September 6th by over 100 community-based employment advice workers, led by SIPTU and Fórsa trade unions and with the backing of most political parties, heard calls for An Taoiseach Micheál Martin to intervene.

“A Government-imposed tendering process favours for-profit providers over the current community-focussed, not-for-profit service. This means that privatisation, job losses and a diminished employment service is likely unless the Government changes course,” said Fórsa.

Its members were considering taking strike action. The staff concerned, who work in Local employment services (LES) and jobs clubs, say the Government proposals would “commodify” jobseekers and make it harder for them to get help.

                                                              • Community workers are on the road again

“We are demanding that the Taoiseach listens to our concerns over jobs and service quality, and works with us to establish a stakeholder forum involving service providers, job-seekers, workers’ representatives, government and academic experts,” said Fórsa official Lynn Coffey. She warned of services being “damaged” at a time when over 300,000 people are unemployed or on PUP payments.

SIPTU official Adrian Kane, said calls from trade unions for a meeting with Minister Heather Humphreys had been “met with silence”.

The Minister has previously stated that the services must be put out to public tender as this is “required to comply with EU procurement rules”.

                                            • BCP staff had a clear message when they joined the LES march

On the day of the protest, the Irish Local Development Network (ILDN) called for “meaningful Government engagement with stakeholders”. The ILDN’s Martina Earley, speaking for Local Development Companies that oversee the services at local level, condemned the move to privatise the community service: “Jobseekers will be faced with a centralised profit-driven, resultsbased process which will not be accessible to all jobseekers.”

“Privatising Services would be a Travesty”

Orlagh Denneny, co-ordinator Mayo Local Employment Service, said: “Privatising these essential services would be a travesty. Privatisation does not work in community services.

“It will result in chronic long-term unemployment and subsequent social problems for individuals who have many barriers to employment.

• Kerry and Limerick workers took part in the LES protest organised by SIPTU and Forsa

“Pulling the service now from safe hands, at a time when Covid-19 presents an employment crisis like never before, just beggars belief,” she said.

Elected public representatives from Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Labour and other parties joined the protest or showed their support.