As if JobBridge wasn’t bad enough, the government will this year start to roll out their Gateway scheme and hope to have it fully operational by next year.
Gateway is the latest weapon that will be used to attack the unemployed, lower wages and conditions for workers and create a free labour workforce.
Under the scheme, long term unemployed people will be picked at random to work 19.5 hours a week for an extra €20 ‘top-up’ on their dole, this means they will work for €1 an hour. As if this is not sickening enough, unbelievably, the scheme lasts for 22 months!
They will be asked to work for local councils doing such tasks as working on roads, parks and environmental services. Some positions will be as ‘Street Ambassadors’ for tourists, it’s not clear yet whether the degradation will involve wearing a leprechaun suit and dancing a jig in Temple Bar Square.
Attacks on the Unemployed
Since the crisis began, there has been a conscious policy on behalf of the government to force unemployed people, specifically the young, to emigrate. This has been complimented by a propaganda offensive to present unemployment as a ‘lifestyle’ choice, along with portraying the unemployed as lazy who would rather sit with their feet up in front of flat-screen TVs as Emaon Gilmore imagines. This is an attempt to whip up a division in the working class between people who currently work and the unemployed, to create a mood where these sorts of free labour schemes will be seen as reasonable.
Gateway, along with the Youth Guarantee, marks a new stage in the war on the unemployed and young people by making free labour schemes compulsory. Anyone who refuses to take part in Gateway can have their dole cut or stopped. Dole queues will turn into police line-ups as people will wonder who is next to be fingered and pushed into these forced labour schemes or face abject poverty. Under the Youth Guarantee, someone who refuses to take part in JobBridge can see their dole to €75 or €111 depending on their current level of payments.
Fight to protect working conditions and wages
The government argue that Gateway will not displace any work which is currently done by council workers, rather it will ‘compliment’ it. This is utter rubbish.
The Gateway conscripts will be used to perform the duties of workers who councils would have previously employed. The councils are financially stretched due to the austerity budgets, recruitment embargos and other cuts. This is an easy way for the government to massage the unemployment figures, cover up the magically disappeared property tax funds and provide a below-par standard of local authorities on the cheap.
Over the last number of years, the Local Authorities have had a recruitment embargo which meant that as people retired they were not replaced. By the beginning of 2013, 3013 outdoor staff had retired or left and not been replaced. According to the government this would increase productivity, according to everyone else this has led to fewer services. Staff in the various departments were ‘redeployed’ to other areas, many of which they had no experience of or took no account of skills which they had built up. In effect, Gateway is being used as a method by which positions which were previously filled by paid workers will be replaced by free labour.
As we have seen with JobBridge, and cuts to public service workers pay, the government are intent on creating a yellow-pack public sector. In the private sector, JobBridge has been used explicitly to avoid having to pay someone to work, as we exposed in the case of the Munster Express, and as a method to lower wages. How long before IBEC decide that 9 months on JobBridge isn’t long enough and demand a version of Gateway?
The Irish Times reported on 21 February that the four local authorities in Dublin will take on over 800 Gateway conscripts, with Dublin City Council taking on the highest amount 295, Fingal and SDCC both at 215, and Dun Laoghaire / Rathdown getting 110. The simple fact is that they will be used to provide many of the frontline services like the maintenance of parks which have been drastically cut back.
Pathways to Wages
All of these schemes are being rolled out under Pathways to Work, one of the government’s plans to create employment. While they are a pathway to work, unfortunately, that work does not come with a wage attached to it. This is part of a process to normalise the idea of working for free, or going further working for your dole.
The desired effect of this is two-fold: among younger people it makes the idea that you have to spend part of your life working for free in an ‘internship’ accepted and part of something which you just have to do to get a step on the employment ladder. Secondly, the idea of working for your dole is an attempt to, as mentioned portray the unemployed as lazy, but also to row back on the welfare state and the right to benefits.
Massive pressure will now be brought to bear on people individually to force them onto these free labour schemes, however, unemployment is not an individual problem but a societal one. There needs to be a battle waged to defeat these schemes and knock the government back, but that needs to include a fight for jobs and wages.
A protest will take place at the next meeting of Dublin City Council on 3rd March at 6.00 against the council’s exploitation of the unemployed under Gateway.
Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy launched the ‘RealJobs Programme: An Alternative to JobBridge Exploitation’ which shows how through public investment in training, education and decent work unemployment could be tackled while protecting wages and working conditions.