Authority accused of using ‘slave labour’

Anti-austerity protestors outside Cork City Hall yesterday. Pic: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

A local authority has been accused of "endorsing slave labour" for deciding to proceed with the hiring of staff under the controversial Gateway scheme.

It follows confirmation last night that Cork City Council plans to have the first group of up to 70 Gateway participants in place by July or August.

They will undertake works in parks and reception amenity areas after funds were set aside in the city’s 2014 budget, acting chief executive Dan Buggy said.

The labour activation scheme provides short-term work and training opportunities for long-term unemployed people who have been on the Live Register for over two years. It is designed to see local authorities taking on unemployed people to work for 19-and-a-half hours a week for a €20 top up to the dole.

Unemployed people who refuse to participate can have their dole cut off.

However, Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor Mick Barry, who joined a protest against the Gateway scheme outside City Hall before last night’s meeting, branded it slave labour.

He pointed out that the council voted 12-4 on a Sinn Féin motion last April to opt out of the scheme.

He also tried to raise the issue during the council meeting, and accused city officials of trying to sneak the scheme “in through the back door”.

“But they’re not going to bring it in without a fight,” he said.

Acting chief executive, Dan Buggy, told councillors that Gateway is a national scheme that the city council has an obligation to follow.

And he said he will provide a full report to councillors on the scheme at the next meeting.

Sinn Féin councillor Mick Nugent, who proposed the motion in April, said Gateway represents an attempt by Minister Joan Burton to force unemployed people into 22 months of hard labour for a “measly” €20 top-up to their dole payment.

“Gateway punishes people for being unemployed and copper-fastens the under-staffing of essential local services,” he said. “It is more to do with massaging the unemployment figures than being a genuine back to work initiative.”

Independent councillor Paudie Dineen said it is scandalous that the Government experts people to work under the scheme for €1 an hour while top civil servants earn over €100,000.

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