Column Social clauses should be in all state contracts to help people get back to work

The announcement that 400 of new Irish Water jobs are to be set aside for graduates, the unemployed and small businesses is welcome – but we should be doing this for all our large scale projects by including social inclusion clauses, writes John Lyons.

WHEN MY COLLEAGUES and I in the Labour Party entered Government two years ago, one of the core tasks we set ourselves was to increase investment in Ireland and get our people back to work.

It seems a paradox, therefore, that while large scale investment in Ireland is increasing, long-term unemployment is rising. One small, straightforward way that the State can directly address unemployment is through the introduction of a ‘social clause’ when its agencies tender for various services.

This social clause, a well-established practice across the EU, would give weight in the tendering process to businesses who actively employ long-term jobseekers.

Although money usually talks when it comes to tenders – I think that it is time that the criteria is expanded to look at the social consequences of awarded contracts.

Jobs set aside

Thankfully this week with the Irish Water jobs announcement, we have taken tentative steps to bringing this into Ireland. Of the 1,600 jobs to be created installing water meters, 400 jobs have been set aside for graduates, the unemployed and small businesses.

Anyone who has ever been out of work knows what a difficult, stressful and demoralising time it can be, especially being long-term unemployed. Last month, some 189,857 people fell into this category – with almost two thirds of these being men who mainly used to work in the construction industry.

While many of these long-term jobseekers are content to retrain and work in other industries, many want to use their skills and experience and continue to work in their field.

Big spender

Given that the Government has committed to spending €13.1 billion in its 2013-2016 Capital Spending Fund, I believe a portion of this fund must be earmarked for projects which will use the services of former construction workers now languishing on the live register. In particular, they should be a requirement of services and works contracts rather than supply contracts.

With our construction industry still in recovery, this public spending on labour-intensive projects can give these workers the opportunities to re-apply their skills as the economy recovers.

It is important to note that such a clause would focus on new jobs rather than replacing existing jobs. A move like this would reduce spending on social welfare and if applied properly and would not add a significant cost burden to contractors – making it a win-win approach.

There is also scope to align the use of social clauses with our policies to help people get jobs through up-skilling and further education.

Local employment

A practical example of this is in the Grangegorman DIT plan. Under this plan, an employment opportunities study was carried out to see how this long-term project could benefit people in Dublin’s North Inner City.

This study proposes setting-up Local Labour Partnerships to work with contractors and sub-contractors to identify what skills they need and how they can be met from the local area. This is done through providing the training and up-skilling needed for local workers to access jobs.

Similar partnerships could be set up for large infrastructural projects like Limerick Regeneration and the National Children’s Hospital. For smaller works, the linkages with local job centres could provide knowledge of the skills and experience in an area before a project starts – helping locals and small businesses access work with contractors.

The State, as the largest spender in the economy, has a responsibility to align its economic objectives with its social objectives. Social clauses can do this while also helping those facing barriers to work to access opportunities that could help restart their careers.

When applied effectively, social clauses are a proven way of addressing social issues – and they can work here too to help tackle our long-term unemployment.

John Lyons is a Labour TD.

Read: 400 jobs for the unemployed through the water metering project>

Poll: Should a percentage of new jobs be set aside for certain sections of society?>

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