SIPTU members working in the community sector held a protest outside the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government today (Wednesday, 18th February) to highlight the Department’s drive to privatise community social inclusion programmes. Workers were also protesting over the refusal of the Department to accept a Labour Court recommendation to negotiate with community workers and their union representatives concerning changes to their conditions of employment and threatened job losses.Hundreds of community workers from the across the State attended the protest, during which a large ‘Department of Silence’ banner was placed on the walls of the Custom House to highlight the Department’s refusal to talk to workers.Speaking at the rally SIPTU Community Sector Organiser, Darragh O’Connor, said: “While austerity delivered disproportionate cuts to the community sector for the past eight years, privatisation is the emerging threat to services.”He added: “The Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme (SICAP) is the guinea pig for the Department’s free market experiment of pitting community organisations against each other to win tenders. This is not just an attack against the social inclusion programme; the threat of privatisation will be an issue for everyone in the community and voluntary sector unless we take a stand now.”SIPTU Community Sector activist, Donnie O’Leary, said: “Workers across the country are being placed on protective notice with some having already been made redundant. In the face of the Department’s intransigence the union has been left with no option but to commence a protective ballot to defend our jobs under transfer of undertakings legislation.”SIPTU Sector Organiser, Eddie Mullins, said: “We are calling on the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, a Labour Minister and Deputy Leader of his party, to respect the recommendation of the Labour Court and direct his Department to immediately engage meaningfully with community sector  workers through our union. At these talks our concerns over privatisation, terms and conditions of employment and job losses must be addressed.”