Minister for Employment and Learning, Stephen Farry, was eager to allay fears over zero hour contracts in Northern Ireland during today’s topical questions. He contested that they are not as widespread a problem as in the rest of the UK but assured the chamber that his Department is doing research into the issue and “looking closely at any policy changes that might happen in Great Britain”. He also revealed his concern at employers that offer zero hour contracts with exclusivity clauses, preventing workers from seeking further employment in order to supplement their income.
During the scheduled oral questions Minister Farry provided a review of capital investment in Regional Colleges in the last 10 years. £262m worth of funding in that period has seen the refurbishment of existing colleges, construction of new institutions, compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act and the addressing of any outstanding health and safety concerns. The Minister also revealed the prospect of further investment in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon with announcements anticipated in the coming months.
Mr Farry also delivered an update on the Community Family Support Programme, describing it as a welcome “good news story” for the Executive. The programme aims to support parents, help prevent younger family members falling into the NEET category and help any young family members already in this situation to re-engage with education, training or employment. A pilot scheme involving 44 families has now been completed and the next stage of development will see the initiative extended to a further 720 families. The pilot phase has been deemed a success, confirming the effectiveness of the programme in helping families “make life-changing decisions to enhance their prospects and become full participants in society”. Testimonials have been very positive with one participating family from East Belfast talking of how their lives have been turned around by the scheme.