The Department of Social Protection has confirmed that 43 people have been disqualified from their social welfare payments for up to nine weeks for refusing to take part in its Gateway jobs initiative.
Under the terms of the Gateway initiative, dole claimants who have been on the Live Register for more than two years are paid an extra €20 per week on top of their jobseeker’s allowance to work for city and county councils.
An average of 19.5 hours per week is on offer in categories intended to benefit the local area — such as village enhancement schemes; landscaping; tourism ambassadors; animal control; and libraries. Each placement lasts 22 months.
The department has said the initiative aims to improve the employability and maintain the work-readiness of those who have been unemployed for long periods.
“Legislation provides that penalties in the form of reduced payments may be imposed by the department where jobseekers fail, without good cause, to comply with activation measures such as Gateway,” a spokeswoman for the department said.
“Since the introduction of the Gateway scheme, 43 people were subject to a disqualification of payment for up to nine weeks for failure to engage with the scheme,” the department spokeswoman added.
The department has previously insisted no one will be “compelled to take up a Gateway position that would result in a decrease in the value of their family income or impose other hardships”.
Gateway has been running since early 2013 and the department has frequently been asked about its slow take-up. In September 2014 it said its aim was still to have 3,000 people on the scheme by the end of that year — it has still never reached the 3,000 figure.
“There have been 2,832 people employed under this initiative since it commenced,” the spokeswoman said.
“Some of the reasons for slower than anticipated progress related to the speed of recruitment, sourcing suitable placements, internal resources, and application of standard recruitment practices.”
It defended the value of the scheme: “Gateway allows participants to engage in worthwhile work, break the cycle of unemployment, and to avail of the wider opportunities offered, professional and social, by being in a work environment.”
Fianna Fáil has previously described Gateway as a “two-year community service sentence” with people having to work almost for free or be forced off the dole, while trade unions have claimed compulsory job placement programmes displace work paid at market wages.
They say that if there is work to be done in both the private and public sectors, then employers should respond by employing labour.
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