Minister questioned over JobPath placement of qualified teachers

Dail hears of unemployed being asked ‘in front of neighbours’ if they had a new suit of clothes for interviews, whether they had ever committed a crime and whether they intended to commit a crime in the future.

Sligo News File Online.

Teachers are being shunted into JobPath programmes because apparently there are no proper jobs for them.

The issue has been raised in the Dail where the Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar was questioned about the “requirement for newly qualified teachers to engage with a private company as part of JobPath in training and activities not related to teaching.”

Former Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton

JobPath was rolled out by former Labour Minister Joan Burton in 2014. Her department stated that Seetec and Turas Nua Ltd., the two successful private sector bidders for the four-year €340 million euro contract would be providing 1,000 staff in 100 outlets to assist the long-term unemployed in finding suitable employment and training.”

Deputy Thomas Broughan put it to Varadkar that “a specific problem” concerning JobPath had arisen in the case of second-level teachers, “although others are also affected.” Teachers, Broughan said, “are required to pursue JobPath training activation but

Thomas Broughan, TD

effectively are casual workers doing substitute work in different schools, including preparatory work.” They also have to be available for work at literally a day’s notice, he said.

Varadkar said people who have been unemployed for a long period of time “should be open to preparing for and taking up employment in occupations or sectors outside of their preferred field of work. This applies to people from all backgrounds, trades and professions.”

He went on to say that on referral to a JobPath service provider, job seekers “are assigned a personal employment adviser who works

Leo Varadkar,
Minister for Social Protection.

with them to identify potential employment opportunities and support them in overcoming any barriers to employment. This may include, depending on the individual, the provision of training in job search and interview skills, or indeed in certain vocational skills.

“In addition JobPath service providers will tailor their approach to accommodate and support people, such as teachers, who can secure part-time or short-notice substitution work.”

However, JobPath came under fire from Limerick Fianna Fail Deputy Willie O’Dea who asked Varadkar if his attention had been drawn to the criticisms being levelled at it.

O’Dea said he was raising the question “because of the large volume of complaints” not only he but also other colleagues on all sides of the house were receiving about the operation of the scheme.

Referring to the reply from Varadkar, O’Dea said he was “staggered by the Minister’s reference to there only being 145 complaints.

“With as much certainty as I can have short of counting, I have received that many complaints from different parts of the country.”

Willie O’Dea, TD

He said, “A woman from County Wicklow rang me last night. She was obviously in distress because of her initial interaction with JobPath. I have received complaints from people in my constituency who were invited into a relatively small room and while sitting cheek by jowl with their neighbours – it is a small city – asked questions about whether they had a new suit of clothes for interviews, whether they had ever committed a crime and whether they intended to commit a crime in the future.

“Who dreamed up these questions?”

O’Dea said that last June the Minister told him that “the Department intended to commission customer satisfaction surveys.” He asked if this been done and whether the surveys had been conducted.

Varadkar said the independent customer satisfaction survey was under way and the results were expected “before the end of the year.”

O’Dea: “Time will not permit me to read all of the e-mails, letters and other correspondence I have received on this issue, but a person from the Minister’s constituency e-mailed me after finding the JobPath experience humiliating, stressful and demoralising. I have received a number of other e-mails. One person’s connection with JobPath had accentuated their anxiety owing to the behaviour of some of the staff. Another person stated no benefit or job opportunities had been presented since they were coerced into attending Turas Nua. Yet another person told me about receiving advice from staff who had received a paltry three months of training and many of whom did not have a background in human resources. Perhaps this explains the reason the number of complaints is so small.

Some 90% of the people who have complained to me have begged me to keep their names out of it because they felt threatened. That is sinister. I can meet the Minister and show him some of the e-mails I have received. The people who sent them did not want their names to be mentioned because they feared retaliation.

That is unacceptable.”

Varadkar: “I am unsure what the Deputy means by “retaliation”. If people are concerned that their payments will be reduced, that cannot be done. Neither of the JobPath providers has the authority to do so. It can only be done by my officials. Sometimes people who attend social welfare offices and Intreo centres have complaints. This may be down to personal interactions, for example, how they have been treated by individual staff members, or their interpretation of what was said to them. However, personal questions sometimes require to be asked in one-to-one engagements. Asking someone whether he or she has a suit in order that he or s he can appear well at an interview is reasonable. Some of the questions people might be asked in interviews are also asked in—–

O’Dea: “Surely not in front of their neighbours.”