UNION TO MAKE CASE FOR EXTENSION OF SOCIAL CLAUSE
Activists from SIPTU’s Communities Uniting campaign have secured a meeting with the Social Development Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly as part of their campaign to have a “threshold of decency” clause applied to state funding for Community and Voluntary Sector. This follows the launch of the Programme for Government by the First Minister and Deputy First Ministers Office which included a commitment to insert a social clause into public procurement contracts.
Speaking ahead of the meeting which is scheduled for 26th May next, Community Activist Sean McMonagle said “We welcome the inclusion of a social clause for public procurement contracts and believe the Executive should be applauded for this positive step. We believe that a “community and voluntary sector social clause” should also be included. This should stipulate minimum employment standards to be applied to any worker delivering services in this sector. A “minimum standards” or “threshold of decency” social clause could resolve many of the difficult issues faced by community sector organisations and the workers within them.”
The Social Development Committee was established to advise and assist the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland MLA, on matters within his responsibility as a Minister. The committee undertakes a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Social Development and plays a key role in the consideration and development of legislation.
The variety of services provided by community and voluntary groups across the North of Ireland is extensive – from sporting groups to meals on wheels, health services, peace building, information centres, and childcare services to environmental activities and residents’ associations.
The positive impact of this sector is not limited to the social fabric of society, as it also plays a vital economic role. While community and voluntary groups receive on average about 43% of their running costs from the state they generate £4 for the local economy for every £1.00 of state funding.
However workers within this sector face major challenges. They have little or no job security and rates of pay and conditions of employment vary widely. Due to funding gaps workers are required to go for frequent and extended periods without any pay. This situation is further compounded for organisations receiving multi stream funding. Around 3,000 workers in this sector have lost their jobs over the previous two years, with the remaining 27,000 attempting to fill the void at a time of ever increasing demand for their service.
An analysis of rates of pay, access to a funded pension scheme, sick pay and maternity entitlements between the two sectors illustrate very clearly that community workers providing vital state funded services to the most disadvantaged sectors of society are treated less favourably than public sector colleagues.
Catherine Pollock who will be representing SIPTU for the engagement with the Social development Committee stated “If we accept that these workers are providing services for the state, then we as citizens have an obligation to ensure the people providing these services are treated in a reasonable manner. We do this for public sector workers yet the same provision for community sector workers is not yet available.”
Martin O’Rourke from SIPTU concluded “We believe that minimum standards on pay and conditions should be agreed between all the stakeholders in a tripartite forum; the funders, the employer organisations and trade unions representing workers in the sector. Such a forum could review these conditions of employment on a periodic basis, and in addition seek resolution to issues arising within the sector. “