Dáil Éireann - Volume 471 - 05 November, 1996
Adjournment Debate. - Youthreach Dispute.
Mr. Martin Mr. Martin
Mr. Martin: I am disappointed that the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, has  not come to the House to address the matters raised by three Deputies pertaining to education. It is scandalous that she should treat Adjournment debates in this manner and has done almost since the beginning of her term in office. The major issues raised related to Gaelscoil Thomáis Dáibhís in Mallow, computer education in Dublin 15 and the Youthreach dispute where industrial action is pending following a ballot, but the Minister did not see fit to come to the House to respond.
I raise this matter to highlight the scandalous treatment of teachers working in the Youthreach centres throughout the country. The teachers and personnel involved work 48 weeks per year and 35 class contact hours per week which is way and above the norm applying to the mainstream educational system. They work on a year-to-year contract, have no permanency and have the worst conditions in the education service. Their work is particularly stressful and there is a high turnover of staff because of the combination of poor working conditions and the intensive nature of the work involved.
Young people aged between 15 and 18 years participate in Youthreach. These young people do not normally have formal qualifications from the education system. They are generally referred from second level schools to Youthreach. Most of them would have had difficulty surviving in the mainstream second level system. Within this age cohort these young people are clearly the most disadvantaged in the education system and their needs are great. It is a sad indictment of the Minister for Education that those working with the most disadvantaged sector in the second level education system are the most poorly treated and paid in the education system.
This situation makes a mockery of the Minister's claim to be the Minister for the disadvantaged. She is anything but that. The European White Paper on training stressed the need to give the best pay and conditions to those who work with young disadvantaged people who deserve the best we can give them. We are doing the exact opposite in Ireland. The people working in Youthreach do not have any security, are underpaid and work in poor conditions. They are performing miracles on behalf of us all.
The CHL Consulting Group carried out a study of the staffing arrangements of Youthreach for the Department of Education. That study concluded last April and in its report there is a clear illustration of the success of Youthreach despite all the difficulties and the poor conditions experienced by their personnel. The people working in these centres who are at the frontier of combating disadvantage enjoy success, but they are treated in a contemptuous way by the Minister for Education and the Government. They deserve better treatment than that.
The Minister should intervene to resolve the dispute which has been ongoing for a considerable period. The TUI has been in negotiation with the Department for a long time but no progress has been made. The fact that 95  per cent of the 250 people employed in Youthreach centres voted for industrial action is a clear illustration of the degree of frustration and anger on the ground. This is yet another example of Labour Party hypocrisy in action. The rhetoric is fine but the reality on the ground is very much different.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
Mr. Allen: I am grateful to the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to set out the position on this matter. There is not an industrial dispute between the TUI and the Department in relation to this matter. It might be helpful if I briefly outline the background to the Youthreach programme and the issues now at hand.
Youthreach was launched by the Ministers for Education and Labour in October 1988 and initiated in January 1989. It comprises a two year programme of education, training and work experience for unqualified early school leavers in the 15 to 18 year age group jointly delivered by the vocational education committees and FÁS.
Youthreach was established initially as a temporary experimental programme. This status is reflected in the employment of staff in the vocational education committee sector who are engaged either on a one year renewable contract or on a part-time basis. These conditions of employment are central to the TUI claim in respect of its members engaged in Youthreach. In this context paragraph 6.37 of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work contained a commitment to discussions being held to review the staffing arrangements for the Youthreach programme in the education sector.
Against this background the Department of Education commissioned CHL Consulting Group to carry out a review of the arrangements and conditions in Youthreach. The report from the consultants made recommendations on the duties, staffing structure, qualifications profile and status of employment of staff on Youthreach having regard to the needs of the client group, the objectives of the programme and the provision in comparable services. My Department has been engaged in discussions with the TUI in this connection. I understand the result of a ballot by Youthreach staff will be presented to the TUI executive which will consider the course of action it proposes to take.
The Deputy is aware that the Youthreach programme is targeted at young people who leave school without qualifications and who are thereby at a significant disadvantage in the labour market and at risk of long-term unemployment. The Youthreach programme plays a significant role in enabling these young people to redress the educational disadvantage which affects their life chances. I am sure the Deputy will share my concern that any action which might be taken by the TUI in pursuit of its claim should not deprive these young people of their education and training opportunities, even for a short duration.
Mr. Martin Mr. Martin
Mr. Martin: The onus is on the Minister of State.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
 Mr. Allen: I strongly urge the TUI to utilise all possible avenues for a negotiated settlement, including the use of established industrial relations institutions. My Department will continue its consultations and discussions with the TUI and I hope these discussions, which have to be conducted within the Programme for Competitiveness and Work framework generally, can lead to a satisfactory solution to the issues at hand.
Dáil Éireann 471 Adjournment Debate. Youthreach Dispute.