Brief for Minister for Employment and Social Protection

Business priorities and solutions



1. An effective labour market policy


Why?

Employment law is already a highly regulated area in this country. Any further regulation of employment law must be evidence-based, and should not be introduced unless a real need is demonstrated.


How?
The Minister should:

  • ensure that any new regulations adopted are based on solid evidence and accompanied by both stakeholder consultation and regulatory impact assessments
  • avoid introducing legislation that could be disproportionate in scope, impose high costs on business and reduce employment creation
  • support employers in achieving and delivering work/life balance objectives by ensuring that legislation does not undermine an employer’s ability to be flexible. For example, the new proposals to extend parental leave by a further six weeks are significantly more costly and burdensome for employers when combined with the proposals in the Family Leave Bill to reduce the notice period for such leave from six to four weeks. An increase in the notice period to eight weeks would be a more valuable amendment. It would reduce the cost and disruption to business when replacing a parent taking leave with negligible impact employees who tend to plan such leave well in advance. 

 2. Reform the private pension system


Why?

Ireland’s favourable demographics, when compared to most developed countries, have allowed us to put our pension problems on the long finger. This grace period is now, however, coming to an end. If this issue remains unresolved, it risks doing serious damage to our consumer economy. With low public confidence and difficulty understanding pensions, fundamental reform of the existing funded private pensions system is needed.


How?
The Minister should:

  • engage fully with employers on critical pension reform issues, such as the introduction of an entry-level universal retirement savings scheme for workers who aren’t currently part of an occupational pension scheme and the governance of defined contribution schemes
  • raise scheme governance standards and risk management; implement an enhanced regulatory framework; and rationalise the types of pension vehicles and differing rules/tax treatments.

3. Withdraw the defined benefit pension provisions in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017


Why?

Ibec shares the Government’s ambition to protect defined benefit scheme members, to encourage employers to ensure that schemes are well-funded and to prevent employers who ‘won’t pay’ as opposed to those who ‘can’t pay’ from walking away from the schemes they sponsor. However, the proposals in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017 will have unintended negative consequences.  It will destabilise ongoing efforts of many employers and trustees to support and deliver on the pension promise made to scheme members and, in some cases, jeopardise the viability of the businesses involved.


How?
The Minister should:

  • conduct a fundamental overhaul of the funding standard regime. The standard should be replaced by a scheme-specific funding requirement, based on its true long-term cost
  • remove the funding standard reserve requirement and introduce more flexibility on annual funding checks
  • introduce a new way of getting a valuation because the standard insurance annuity system is not a good proxy for pricing annuities at closure. There should be greater flexibility on valuation dates and smoothing by averaging fund results over a period of time.

4. Review and update the Pathways to Work strategy


Why?

The Pathways to Work programme from 2012 to 2015 set out a comprehensive reform of the State’s approach to helping unemployed jobseekers return to work, and was designed to complement the Action Plan for Jobs as part of a twin-pronged approach to tackling the jobs crisis that emerged after 2008. However, there is a danger that unemployment services will slip down the political agenda during a time of labour market recovery. Ireland is particularly vulnerable to global impacts and shocks and we need to be prepared to respond to these. We need a dynamic activation strategy that is updated regularly to meet these changing requirements.


How?
The Minister should:

  • commit to more ambitious employment, participation and unemployment targets that reflect the reality of an economic recovery
  • introduce a programme of quantitative and qualitative studies of labour market activation schemes to evaluate the impact of the changes made to date and to inform future policy
  • continue to develop a more professional approach to engaging with employers. Suitably trained staff should be equipped with customer relationship management systems to gather data on the number of employers engaging with the Intreo service, the quality of that engagement and its outcomes.

5. Align labour market programmes with industrial policy and training provision

Why?

The Pathways to Work strategy should be closely aligned with broader government policy including Enterprise 2025, the national and regional Action Plans for Jobs, and the National Skills Strategy 2025. While the Pathways to Work 2016-2020 strategy acknowledges this imperative, it is less explicit about how it might happen, particularly at regional and local level. The establishment of the Regional Skills Fora is an attempt to address the challenge of developing a coherent activation and skills strategy that can be effectively implemented by a diverse range of actors. 


How?

The Minister should:

  • make a greater effort to co-ordinate the delivery of services to employers across the various State agencies, including Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), Education and Training Boards (ETBs), Intreo, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland
  • ensure training and education for unemployed people are designed to meet identified skills needs. It will be important for the Department of Social Protection to work with SOLAS and the ETBs and other organisations providing services to jobseekers (such as Jobs Clubs) to ensure that consistent and high standard career guidance service is provided to unemployed people and others of working age.
  • ensure that the Department’s regional offices engage with employers in a cohesive manner through the Regional Skills Fora.

6. Embed a culture of evidence-based labour market programme selection and design


Why?

The development of appropriate programmes and interventions needs to take due account of experience and evidence as to what type of programmes work best in particular circumstances or for particular cohorts of jobseekers. For this reason and in order to maximise the impact of public funds and resources available to provide services to jobseekers, an ambitious programme of evaluations should be completed.


How?
The Minister should:

  • continue, and where appropriate expand, those programmes that are found to enhance the employment prospects of their participants in an efficient manner
  • scale back and adjust those programmes that are not meeting the objective of assisting their participants to secure employment.

7. Introduce a new Work Experience scheme to replace JobBridge


Why?

The Minister for Social Protection announced the closure of JobBridge in October 2016, despite a report from international consultants that the programme had helped around two thirds of participants - 38,000 people - to re-enter the jobs market.


How?
The Minister should:

  • introduce a new programme that builds upon the successes of JobBridge, and incorporating the lessons from the evaluation and related studies. The new programme should have a stronger focus on skills, paying at least the minimum wage, and focusing on those unemployed for at least six months.

 

About Ibec

Ibec is Ireland's largest and most influential business representative. We proudly speak on behalf of 7,500 Irish businesses; home grown, multinational, big and small, spanning every sector of the economy and employing 70% of the private sector workforce in Ireland. Together with our 40+ trade associations, we lobby government and policy makers nationally and internationally to maintain a positive climate for business and drive economic growth. Our policy is shaped by our members through the work of our board, national council, policy committees and trade associations.  We regularly produce market leading industry and business events, positions on issues impacting business, economic research, forecasts and analysis. We also provide a wide range of professional services and management training to members on all aspects of human resource management, occupational health and safety, employee relations and employment law.  With 200 staff in 6 offices around Ireland as well as an office in Brussels and connections in the U.K. and Washington, Ibec communicates the Irish business voice to key stakeholders at home and abroad.

Share this article