Funding shortfall for Worktrack

Proposals put forward by the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) to end Worktrack’s funding by 2006 have been met with anger in West Belfast.

Worktrack is a waged-based programme based on either full or part time employment. It entitles participants to full employment rights and they can avail of other financial benefits of being in employment. Participants on the scheme can be placed with an employer and receive on the job training which increases their employability.

Representatives from Worktrack have said that they will fight the proposals every step of the way and have already sought legal advice on the matter.
The group which is run in West Belfast by City West Action received notification recently stating the implications for Worktrack under the recently published Budget and Priorities document. As the proposals stand proposals include a major reduction in funding for Worktrack in 2005/06 and the complete removal of funding beyond that. Under the proposals Worktrack would cease to recruit in January 2005.

DEL say that while the decision is regrettable it had to be taken.
“Difficult decisions have to be taken over budget allocations and the reality is that the department’s funding allocation is insufficient to allow Worktrack to continue in the future,” said a spokeswoman for DEL.

Representatives from Worktrack now have until 7 December to respond to a consultation process being carried out by DEL.

The removal of the scheme will result in more than 1220 participants staying on the benefit system and 150-200 permanent jobs which are supported through the programme will be lost.

Gerry Ward the Director/Treasurer of City West Action said: “It came as a complete shock and there was no talk about it.

“We have been in contact with DEL and so have our solicitors.”

Liz Groves, Chairperson of City West Action said that if Worktrack ceases operation, it will have far-reaching consequences.

“We are looking at the economics of this and what it will do to the dignity of people who want to work.

“We are looking at the political side of this and are looking at the whole legal implications,” she said.

“This is the equivalent of closing down the brewery six times over, it will not just affect the people on the programme, but will also have a knock-on effect,” said Gerry.

“We will not take this lying down,” added Liz.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, MP for West Belfast has expressed concern about the decision to cease funding of Worktrack.

"Worktrack is a programme aimed at assisting the long-term unemployed in West Belfast,” said Mr Adams.

“I have been pressing government departments to exercise their responsibility for generating employment in this constituency. Given that job losses have been announced recently by companies in this area, it makes no sense that the Department of Employment and Learning have now announced that it will cease funding a programme for the unemployed.

“I intend to write to Barry Gardiner, the British Minister responsible, to challenge this decision and to question whether the Department of Employment and Learning has properly assessed the equality implications of its decision to end Worktrack,” added Mr Adams.

Journalist:: Roisin McManus

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