RTW Motion

Right to Work: Right to Welfare group successfully lobbies Council parties to unite and use annual £40m of public money to help address chronic unemployment.

The Right to Work: Right to Welfare group, made up entirely of unemployed people from across Belfast presented over 1500 signatures gathered at every dole queue in the city to Councillors in September asking for REAL JOBS NOW.

Since then the group of unemployed people have successfully secured the support of Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party for their REAL JOBS NOW motion.

The group met with the political parties in support at Belfast City Hall on Friday 15 November.

The motion mandates that the £40m spent annually by Belfast City Council on goods, services and construction through the procurement budget include a legal clause which creates fully paid ring-fenced jobs and apprenticeships for the long term unemployed (those out of work for 12+ months).

In April of this year the newly formed Right to Work: Right to Welfare group met with Minister for Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Ferry MLA and presented research which outlined that government ‘back to work’ schemes were failing to positively impact the long term unemployed. The group’s research, which surveyed people signing on at Corporation Street dole office, found that only 5% of people got jobs after going through a government back to work scheme.

Since April, the group has been monitoring people’s experience of unemployment and the welfare system outside all dole offices across the city and gathering ideas on what measures both Belfast City Council and the NI Executive could take to generate real jobs for people in most need.

Belfast City Council spends over £40m every year purchasing the services and resources required to run the city – through construction, recycling, maintenance work, and purchasing of a wide range of goods and services. An additional £150m was spent in 2012 to build and maintain buildings and facilities.

Currently Belfast City Council do not use any clauses in its legal contracts to ensure private contractors employ a certain amount of the long term unemployed when they receive public money from the Council.  Yet, in 2005 the Department of Finance and Personnel carried out a successful pilot project doing just that, which, was evaluated by the University of Ulster and found to be ‘economical, effective, efficient, and did not breach any European legislation’. The newly renovated Ravenhill Rugby Stadium also made it a legal requirement for the contractor to ring-fence real jobs and apprenticeships for the long term unemployed.

The group believe their motion provides a unique and untapped potential to start tackling long term unemployment.

Seán Brady of Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), the organisation founded by the late Inez McCormack which supports the Right to Work: Right to Welfare group, said:

“What this motion, and the people who signed it, are asking for is legal, and it has a precedent in the public sector here. It is a modest proposal which can bring massive impact to the lives of people experiencing severe economic and financial hardship. As such it has been received very positively by every councillor and party the group has met. The only question for council should be ’when do we start?’”

Right to Work: Right to Welfare group member Bertie Atkinson, who is currently on 50+ Steps Ahead but knows there is no chance of a job at the end said:

“We want Council to take on board our research which shows the views and experiences of the unemployed from right across Belfast. Steps to Work isn’t working. Unemployed people view it as a cheap form of labour for companies, not an opportunity which provides outcomes. It has been great to see the councillors in support so far. We hope all of them will vote for the motion when it’s up for debate.”

“All Belfast City Councillors say they are united in trying to create jobs for the most disadvantaged in our communities – the Lord Mayor himself has said this his term of office will be defined by a four letter word - JOBS.”

“The motion which unemployed people across Belfast are asking Councillors to propose and endorse simply puts those sentiments into constructive action.”

“Amidst all of our difficulties as a City – this is one positive thing we could do to unite us. We are confident Councillors will back this – why wouldn’t they?”