Last week (Tuesday 17th February) the Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) group held an event in the Golden Thread Gallery to mark the one year anniversary of the REAL JOBS NOW! motion being passed at Belfast City Hall.

One year after the motion was passed with cross community political support at Belfast City Council, training and employment support organisations from across the city came together with Councillors from City Hall and the R2W group to discuss the urgent need to ensure full implementation of the REAL JOBS NOW! motion.

Councillors present at the event included those from Sinn Féin, the SDLP and People Before Profit with the Alliance Party and the TUV sending their apologies and expressing their continued support. A full Gallery audience heard how, once the motion was passed, the R2W group had to enter into a new campaigning phase to see the REAL JOBS NOW! policy implemented on the ground.

Councillors heard how:

-          In February the R2W group presented implementation proposals, based on best practice existing legal models which were ignored.

-          In April a Freedom of Information request revealed that not one meeting had taken place nor one email had been sent to progress the policy.

-          In August a new ‘draft social clauses policy’ emerged which Belfast City Council intended to capture the ‘spirit’ and ‘essence’ of the REAL JOBS NO! campaign; but which failed to meet the actual commitments of the motion.

In fact, based on the draft social clauses policy prepared by Council it was estimated that only 24 jobs would be created for the long term unemployed out of a total expenditure of £150m of tax payer’s money.

It was explained that, based on the current evidence, massive job creation projects such as Girdwood, the Waterfront, Connswater and more were failing to implement the REAL JOBS NOW! policy. The money was not reaching those who need it most. Long term unemployed people were not getting jobs.

Those in attendance reflected their frustration with the huge opportunities in north, south, east and west Belfast not delivering benefits for the long term unemployed in their communities. R2W Group members relayed their experience of attending a meeting in December with employers and training providers, where they were made aware that only one long term unemployed person had gained employment through the £10m Girdwood construction project and that the employer ‘did not ring fence jobs for the long term unemployed’.

The frustration with the current failure to implement REAL JOBS NOW! inspired many of those in attendance to action. Councillors in attendance pledged their parties continued support for the full implementation of REAL JOBS NOW!

Cllr Tim Attwood from the SDLP pledged his party’s support for rigorous social clauses and stated “we must use the law to create outcomes for those most in need”

Cllr Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit urged Belfast City Council to make changes to the draft policy to meet the #3SimpleSteps especially in light of impending Welfare cuts which would make it even harder for people who are out of work.

Cllr Corr from Sinn Féin said that local politicians should act as “champions” for the campaign and convene monthly meetings where the R2W group can monitor progress to ensure that social clauses are implemented properly.

In a message of support received from the TUV, Cllr Jolene Bunting called for the issues highlighted by the R2W Group to be addressed “with the greatest urgency” and referred to the promise of full implementation of REAL JOBS NOW! as “the light at the end of the tunnel” for a city with such high rates of long term unemployment.

Community organisations, NGOs and training providers in the room also added their support to the #3SimpleSteps campaign led by the R2W Group which is calling for Belfast City Council to amend the draft social clauses policy to ensure that

1. Social clauses are included “at every opportunity” not just “wherever possible” or in contracts that are longer than six months and that have a labour value of over £250,000...

2. Social clauses are considered for inclusion in “all contracts” not just contracts of a certain type...

3. Social clauses deliver exactly what they say on the tin - “ring-fenced fully paid jobs & apprenticeships for the long term unemployed”; not ambiguous concepts such as ‘employment weeks’...

As the Council consultation on the draft social clauses policy comes to an end and the R2W campaign looks forward, R2W group member, Bertie Atkinson commented on the next steps:

‘Welfare reforms are going to continue to hit the long term unemployed so it’s more important than ever that Belfast City Council get this right. It is clear from today that the community and many of our elected officials can see that the draft policy brought forward has no substance in terms of getting jobs to the long term unemployed and has to be changed to include the 3 Simple Steps. It is important that the Councillors, who are democratically elected, step up to plate as they promised they would today and ensure Council officials implement the REAL JOBS NOW! policy as it was meant and agreed a year ago.’

Click here for PPR’s response to Draft Social Clauses consultation and further information on the R2W Group’s 3 Simple Steps campaign.