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  Meaningful Work

Part-time Job Opportunities Programme

When a person is better of financially by stayng on the dole rather than taking a job, it is time for some serious creative thinking in relation to unemployment. Thankfully the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI) have come up with something which has run as a pilot project and is now, because og its success, about to be extended.
Edited by Alison Peacock  

Unemployment in the Republic of Ireland has been rising steadily since the 1970s. During the 1980s and early 1990s the numbers of unemployed people grew at an alarming rate: for example, between 1980 and 1993, unemployment increased by 200.0%. The official unemployment rate climbed to nearly 19.0%, which meant that Ireland vied with Spain for the country with the highest unemployment rate within the European Union. By late 1994 the figures stopped rising, and the unemployment rate levelled out at approximately 17.0%. This was partly due to the end of the recession affecting all European economies, but also to an increase in part-time jobs and "make work" schemes, which remove some people from the unemployment registers, but do not actually create jobs.

One of the most disturbing features of unemployment in Ireland is the rise in long-term unemployment (defined as people unemployed continuously for twelve months or more). In fact, the long-term unemployment rate amounts to nearly 10.0%, which is more than twice that of France, more than three times that of Germany and the United Kingdom, and more than ten times that of Sweden. Thus 135,000 people officially registered as unemployed have been looking for work for more than one year: according to the Labour Force Survey (1992) over half had been unemployed for more than three years, and two-fifths for more than five years. Moreover, the longer a person is unemployed, the greater the possibility of remaining unemployed. This problem is not peculiar to Ireland. However, the high birth-rate means that each year 20,000 school leavers have to be absorbed into the Irish labour market. Thus the difficulties faced by long-term unemployed people seeking work are exacerbated.

The size of Ireland's unemployment problem has put tremendous strain on the welfare system, which suffered a series of drastic cuts in 1992. Some, thanks to the efforts of unemployed people's organisations, have been reversed and further cuts were not implemented. However, the actual level of payments is still around 20.0% below the poverty line established by a Government Commission. Part-time workers are particularly affected, as unemployed part-time employees receive a lower rate of unemployment benefit by comparison with full-time employees. Not surprisingly, poverty has serious consequences in terms of the psychological and physical health of unemployed people and their families. Moreover, at a time when unemployment protection is under pressure, their access to decision-making processes becomes increasingly hard.

The challenge of unemployment, and the related problems of poverty, health and social exclusion, are among the chief motivating forces behind the strong unemployed movement in Ireland. The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) is a federation of unemployed centres, action groups and community organisations across both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Individuals are now able to join directly, which has enabled the INOU to establish local branches across the country. The local groups have campaigning as their primary focus, and the INOU aims to provide a range of support services (such as training, information, advice on welfare rights) as well as co-ordinate campaigns on a national level. The INOU organised a national week of action on unemployment in 1992, and has since helped to secure three seats on the National Economic and Social Forum (set up to assist the formulation of Government policy on unemployment). This, according to the INOU, constitutes the first formal recognition of organisations of unemployed people in "social partnership" structures in Ireland.

The INOU is not the only organisation active on unemployment issues, and indeed co-operation between different agencies has been key to the success of initiatives with the unemployed people of Ireland. For example, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has a network of unemployed centres, most of which are also affiliated to the INOU, and works together with the INOU to represent unemployed people's organisations on the National Economic and Social Forum. Yet another source of support comes from the Roman Catholic Church, which claims the allegiance of 94.0% of the population of Ireland. This extends beyond traditional concepts of welfare provision to ground-breaking initiatives such as the Part-time Job Opportunities Programme.

Background to the programme

For many years the Conference of Major Religious Superiors (CMRS), now known as the Conference of Religious of Ireland (CORI), has sought to critique policy and stimulate new thinking on unemployment and other social issues. During the past decade CMRS has debated and published ideas on the state of the nation; power, participation and exclusion; health and the future of health-care; work, unemployment and job creation policy; and an adequate income for all. The Part-time Job Opportunities Programme is a concrete proposal emerging from a paper presented to the CMRS social policy conference on new frontiers for citizenship in September 1993.

If there is to be "meaningful work..." basic assumptions about work, income and participation need to be challenged.

The paper on which the proposal was based, "Work, Jobs, Income: Towards a New Paradigm", opens with an analysis of unemployment and income in Ireland. The first section argues that policies based on belief in full employment for all have failed. The second section provides a critique of the philosophies and unquestioned assumptions that have shaped, and continue to shape, socio-economic policy in Ireland. If there is to be "meaningful work, adequate income and effective participation for all Irish citizens", basic assumptions about work, income and participation need to be challenged. Chief among these are the belief that working and doing a job are identical, and the belief that the best way to contribute to society is through a job. The third section of the paper is devoted to a new paradigm of work and income, based on every person's right both to meaningful work and sufficient income to live life with basic dignity, and makes concrete proposals which would enable these rights to be actualised. The main proposal, concerning the development of part-time job opportunities for unemployed people, forms the basis of the Part-time Job Opportunities Programme.

The CMRS/CORI proposal was submitted to the Government in December 1993. Funds for a pilot programme were allocated in the Finance Minister's budget speech in January 1994. On 3 June 1994 a formal agreement on implementation of a three year pilot programme (creating 1,000 part-time jobs) was signed. Meanwhile the original paper was presented to the National Economic and Social Forum, and features in Ending Long-term Unemployment, a report from the Forum published in June 1994.

Aims and activities of the programme


ī to enhance the dignity of unemployed people by providing opportunities for meaningful work;

īto broaden the meaning of work, and to put value on this work;

īto challenge the "availability for a job" rule, which requires unemployed people to remain idle;

īto provide relevant education and training; to pay the "going rate for the job" so that unemployed people are not used as cheap labour.

These goals were expressed in the proposal submitted to the Government:

That Government initiate a programme whereby unemployed people could be employed voluntarily by local authorities, Health Boards, Education Authorities, voluntary or community organisations or groups doing work of public or social value which is not currently being done or which is only partly being done at present, at the "going rate for the job", for as many hours as would give them a net income equivalent to what the unemployed person was receiving in unemployment assistance".

Payment for an additional number of hours, ensuring an increase in income for participants, would be provided. The money paid to participants would be reallocated to the employing organisation by the Department of Social Welfare, but they would lose none of their other social welfare entitlements. Once the required number of hours had been worked then participants would be free to do whatever they wished. However, income from other jobs would be liable for tax in the normal way.

The Part-time Job Opportunities Programme is piloted by CORI through the Institute for Action and Research on Work and Employment Limited, a non-profit-making private company based in Maynooth, County Kildare. It has a Board of Directors, and is staffed by a Programme Director and a Programme Co-ordinator (Supervision). Area Supervisors are located in pilot areas selected for the programme, which include an urban situation, a town situation, a large rural area, a remote rural area, and a very poor urban area, and an area selected to develop work with young people. The education and training component of the Part-time Job Opportunities Programme is sub-contracted to St Patrick's College, Maynooth, which has the role of Programme Co-ordinator (Education).

More than one thousand applications from sponsors in the designated pilot areas were received. More than one thousand applications from sponsors in the designated pilot areas were received. They came from organisations involved with the arts, credit unions, development education, the environment, health and housing, and specific groups such as young people or travellers. Church organisations were also included. By far the greatest number of applications came from educational organisations, although interest from organisations active in community and rural development was high. The new jobs created through the programme were similarly diverse, ranging from Administrator to Alternative Farming Instructor, from Maintenance Person to Marine Researcher, and from Telephone Receptionist to Talking Newspaper Worker. Twenty-two separate job categories, covering the entire spectrum of voluntary and community activities, have been identified. However, regardless of the type of activity, new employees were paid the rate for the job. Moreover, because all the posts created under the programme were new, there was no threat to existing workers' jobs and in consequence no objection from Trade Unions.

Achievements and next steps

By the end of the first six months of the programme 1,000 jobs had been approved and taken up, despite the fact that no staff, offices and administrative structure existed at the start of that period. Very little information on the new workers was then available, except for the fact that 47.0% of new posts were held by men and 53.0% by women. It was also clear from a preliminary examination of workers' personal details that a high proportion had a history of dependence on social welfare payments for very long periods. The shortest would be at least one year, which indicates that the programme was proving successful in attracting the long-term unemployed.

The early stages of the Part-time Job Opportunities Programme did not only improve the lives of unemployed individuals, but showed itself capable of benefiting the life of a whole community. For example, Ballyroan Community Alliance, an umbrella organisation for groups concerned with aspects of community life in a village with no employment opportunities, applied for funds. The aim was to develop new facilities and amenities for the village: improving the village hall, repairing damaged walls, erecting signs and constructing a "river walk". In addition there were plans to build up community activities such as arts and sports workshops for young people, a traditional crafts revival, and an oral history project involving both school-children and elderly members of the community. The money from the programme enabled Ballyroan Community Alliance to employ sixteen people who were previously unemployed. Moreover, the community development that has since been made possible, contributes to the employment status of the area. This suggests that the programme's impact may be long-term, and will not cease once the pilot study has been completed.

The next steps for the Part-time Job Opportunities Programme will depend largely on the results of the on-going monitoring and evaluation process, but the popularity of the pilot study with sponsors and participants suggests that up to 100,000 new positions could be created if the programme were to be adopted nationally. Indeed, this proposal has already been made to Government in an interim progress report, even though the likelihood is that a national programme would not be administered either by CORI or by the Institute for Action and Research in Employment. However, it will be important to maintain the characteristics responsible for the success of the pilot study: the person-centred approach; the provision of support for sponsors and workers; the implementation of proper selection procedures; a system of Area Supervisors; flexibility; and, above all, maintaining the voluntary nature of the programme. This will ensure the continuing development of the Part-time Job Opportunities Programme, so that substantially larger numbers of people have access to real and meaningful jobs.

Sources and contact information:

National information is based partly on reports of the Irish delegation to the annual conferences of the European Network of the Unemployed, and partly on a report of the National Economic and Social Forum, Ending Long-term Unemployment, Forum Report No. 4 (June 1994). The origins of the Part-time Job Opportunities Programme are described in the seminal paper referred to in the text: Sean Healy and Brigid Reynolds, "Work, Jobs and Income: Towards a New Paradigm", in New Frontiers for Citizenship, edited by Sean Healy and Brigid Reynolds (Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Ireland, 1993). Details of programme activities are taken from a progress report produced by the Institute for Action and Research on Work and Employment and CORI. CMRS/CORI publications are available from: The Justice Commission, Conference of Religious of Ireland, Milltown Park, Dublin 6, Ireland.

The above article appeared in Working Models, Unemployment and Church Action, European Contact Group working paper 3. Published by The European Contact Group c/o The William Temple Foundation, Manchester Business School, M15 6PB, U.K. Tel: +44 161 272 6533/4. Fax: +44 161 272 8663. Email: ISBN 0 9518696 1 2

Artwork from the Reader's Digest Bible, Illustrated Version

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