Boardmatch Ireland explores the latest developments in the Community Sector Employers’ Forum (CSEF) ‘Shadow Employer’ initiative and talks to Jean Somers, coordinator of the campaign about the need for greater dialogue between government and sector.

The recently released ‘Shadow Employer’ report revealed the increasing problem of funders intervening inappropriately in the employer/employee relationship of community and voluntary organisations (CVO) as part of conditions for funding. To bolster their campaign, CSEF sought the legal opinion of Barrister Ciara Kennedy to ascertain whether or not the funder would be held to be an employer.

Upon extensive research, Barrister Ciara Kennedy found “while the funder is certainly involving itself in the employer/employee relationship, it does not in my opinion exercise sufficient control to deem it an employer. In order for such a situation to be possible, there would have to be circumstances such as for example the funder having day to day control of the employee.”

Adding further weight to her legal recommendations, Barrister Kennedy highlighted: “the funding agreements expressly provide that the sponsor body and not the funder are to be the employer.” Furthermore, the Oireachtas has provided for a statutory exclusion in relation to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs which states: “the Minister shall not, or be deemed to be, an employer, within the meaning of the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts 1994 and 2001, by virtue of the provisions of funding to a person or persons under any scheme.”

The findings are a definite boost for the initiative.

Statutory funding agencies are not in the business of making life difficult for the C&V sector but the CSEF report has shown that relations are becoming increasingly strained. Somers is adamant that the current CVO/statutory funding agency relationship is damaging governance practices in the sector. Intervening in what should be the sole responsibility of the organisation is, according to Ms Somers, causing a “muddying of the waters.” “It fogs the situation whereby the employer/ employee relationship is no longer clear.”

Upon consultation with CVO, the report found numerous instances of funders intervening in what should be the sole responsibility of the board and organisation. It heard of: CVO being presented with contracts that cannot be negotiated, funders directing how cut backs should be applied, funders making unilateral changes to agreements and scrutiny over income, expenditure and activities not related to funds received from statutory bodies.

In the background for many years, the problems facing CVO with regards to their funders have come to the forefront in recent times. “When the crisis hit, there were more and more stories about inappropriate interventions by state funders.” The situation of course varies from organisation to organisation with some enjoying a good relationship with their funders. But success stories aside, Ms Somers warns that a more fundamental issue remains. ‘The situation has been aggravated by the crisis and has shown that there isn’t an agreed relationship between CVO and the government.’

The problem of inappropriate interventions by funders is becoming more acute as a result of Ireland’s ailing financial situation. External financial institutions currently playing a central role in nursing the Irish economy back to health are putting significant pressure on the Irish government to stringently monitor its finances. The problem indeed runs deep. “Our government has a shadow government” Ms Somers explains. “Every penny has to be accounted for and this has meant that the government is moving towards a more interventionist stance.”

No stranger to scandal over its murky financial dealings in the past, it appears the Irish government is now treading carefully so as to avoid a repeat.

The CSEF initiative hopes to create the conditions for better dialogue between the sector and the government. They have issued a call for Constructive Dialogue which they are asking organisations to sign in the hope of bringing about policy change at government level.

Click here for a full analysis of the report.

Written by Sophie O’Brien

Communications Officer, Boardmatch Ireland