R2W Group

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

A group of unemployed people today presented 51 letters and a petition with over 1500 signatures to Belfast City Council asking for Real Jobs.  The letters were hand delivered to each Belfast City Councillor asking them to propose and unanimously support a motion mandating that the £40m spent annually by the 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).

The Real Jobs Motion petition has over 1,600 signatures. The average quota for election to Belfast City Council at the 2011 election across the nine Council Wards was 1543. At least 1,500 of these signatures were collected at the following Social Security Offices across Belfast: Anderstonstown (West), Shankill (West), Falls Road (West), Holywood Arches (East), Corporation Street (North & East), Shaftesbury Square (South) and Chichester Street Job Centre (City Centre). The Real Jobs Motion reads:

“That this Council recognises the increasing social and economic hardship experienced by people in our communities as a result of growing unemployment and cuts to welfare benefit; council accepts it has  a duty to use the powers available to it (including but not limited to planning, regulation and procurement powers), to generate positive outcomes for the most marginalised in our communities and hereby commits to include a ‘Real Jobs’ clause at every available opportunity, in contracts tendered by council to procure goods, services and capital works. The ‘Real Jobs clause’ will guarantee ring fenced, fully paid jobs and apprenticeships for the long-term unemployed (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 in the community. 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 an extremely 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 Right to Work: Right to Welfare group are asking Councillors to deliver the same in the council by proposing and supporting a motion calling on Belfast City Council to use every available opportunity to provide ring fenced jobs 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 petition, 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. The only question for councillors should be ‘when do we start?’”

Right to Work: Right to Welfare group member Bertie Atkinson, who is currently living on Job Seekers allowance 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.”

“All Belfast City Councillors say they are united in trying to create jobs for the most disadvantaged in our communities – the Lord Mayor 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?”

The ‘Real Jobs’ motion is not currently being sponsored by any Councillor. The Right to Work: Right to Welfare group has said this should be a cross-community, people’s motion that can unite the City around a positive agenda. The Right to Work: Right to Welfare group have offered briefings to all parties on the Council and with a view to Council passing the motion before Christmas 2013.