The invisible strings that hold community together

Back in the summer of ‘82, when Paolo Rossi was setting the stones alight with his scorching display in the heat of football pitches at the Spanish World Cup, I spent the days picking cold stones from a wet football pitch in Mayo. In those days, when the offer of a job was as fickle as the tumbleweed that blew across our horizon, the Community Employment Scheme was all we knew.

And while I’ll never know if we ever made any difference with the stones we picked from what seemed like a field of stones, we felt like we had the impossible task of digging just half a hole. It was invisible work, probably invented by someone to keep us busy, to bend our backs, to get us used to the real world.

In the decades in the meantime, Community Employment Schemes have moved on a million miles. Now, they do really valuable worthwhile work without which our communities would not function as smoothly. They offer training, guidance, work experience and motivation to tens of thousands right around the country.

In your local town or village today, there are people at work on CE schemes ensuring that the day care centre users get there and back safely; that the pitch is mowed and lined for your kids; that the library books are stacked and resolved; that the drug rehabilitation centres are manned; that helplines and charity call centres are supported; that provide invaluable back up to almost every charity and organisation in your midst.

There is not a community in the city or county that is not touched in some way by the CE schemes.

And all of this work is overseen by 1200 supervisors around the country — they take care of the payroll, organise training and motivation, and ensure that the work that is done is of the highest standard and benefits the locality in some way. A decade ago, the Labour Court ruled that they were deserving of an occupational pension. But as of yet, the Government has not honoured this ruling.

Now after the lack of any meaningful discourse, Community Employment (CE ) supervisors will begin five days of strike action next Monday (May 13 ), across the country, following what they say is the refusal of the Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe, to agree to meet them to discuss their right to a pension.

The five day strike will impact on community employment schemes across the country including those providing childcare, elderly-care and drug rehabilitation services. It will hurt those who are in most need in our communities.

The elderly, the vulnerable, the young, the clubs and organisations who have been determined to have a need that requires filling by a CE scheme worker.

Some schemes will close for the duration of the strike as the sponsors of it cannot guarantee that there will be adequate health and safety if the supervisors are not there.

The supervisors have been described as “nobody’s children.” The worthy and chest-strapped groups and organisations who benefit from them cannot afford to pay them a pension, while the Department of Social Protection which treats them like an employee says “it’s not our role either.”

Next week’s strike will hurt every community in some way. With an election just a few weeks away, it is incumbent on us all to ensure that the matter gets a strong airing, and that the work produced by these schemes is accorded the respect it deserves.

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