As a result of the appointment of a receiver on 13 December 2001, Wexford Electronix was advertised for sale in January of this year. The final outcome of this process, which is nearing conclusion, will determine the future of the company. In agreement with key customers, the plant is to remain open until the end of March 2002. The Tánaiste visited the plant, accompanied by the chief executive and regional manager of Enterprise Ireland, on 22 January last, to assess the situation on the ground and to meet the management and staff of the company, as well as trade union representatives and local representatives. Enterprise Ireland has remained in close contact with the company and the receiver to facilitate any potential takeover or restructuring of the company.
In relation to redundancy payments to workers, to date 14 claims for payment of statutory redundancy lump sums out of the social insurance fund have been received. These payments will be made as soon as documentation regarding the receivership of the company is received. A further 350 claims for payment out of the social insurance fund are expected in the Department shortly. Again priority will be given to the payment of these claims when they are received in our Department. With regard to the insolvency payments scheme, under which amounts of outstanding wages, holiday pay etc. may be claimed from the social insurance fund, I understand there will be over 360 employees involved in total. To date, claim forms in respect of 15 employees were received on 20 February this year. The originals had to be returned to the receiver, on query, due to incomplete information. The staff of the insolvency payments section have been in phone contact with staff from the receiver's office, who are working on site in Wexford, in relation to the completion of the forms.
In regard to minimum notice compensation, also payable under the insolvency payments scheme, appeals by employees will have to be made before the Employment Appeals Tribunal and amounts determined by the tribunal. Whenever these determinations are issued and claim forms received via the receiver, the insolvency payments section of the Department will process the claims as quickly as possible. On the overall issue of the statutory redundancy payments scheme, the Redundancy Payments Acts, 1967-2001, oblige employers to pay redundant employees what is known as a statutory redundancy entitlement. The amount is related to the employee's length of service and his or her normal weekly earnings, based on their gross weekly wage, average regular overtime and payment-in-kind, all added together, subject to a ceiling of €507.90 per week. The ceiling was increased from €380.92 to €507.90 per week with effect from 1 April 2001, following consultations with the social partners. The scheme covers any employee, who is between 16 and 66 years of age with 104 weeks – two years – continuous service and who is insurable for all benefits under the Social Welfare Acts and is normally expected to work for 18 hours or more per week. Part-time workers, with less than 18 hours per week, do not have to be fully insurable but must satisfy the rest of the conditions. Employers who pay their workers their redundancy entitlement and give them proper notice of being made redundant, at least two weeks, are entitled to a 60% rebate from the social insurance fund, into which they make regular payments themselves through PRSI contributions.
Calculation of a redundancy lump sum payment is based upon the following: a half week's pay for each year of employment, between the ages of 16 and 41 years; a week's pay for each year of employment over the age of 41 years; and, in addition, a bonus week. All calculations are subject to the ceiling that I mentioned earlier, which at present stands at €507.90 per week.
Our Department has been reviewing how, among other things, the operation of the statutory redundancy scheme could be made simpler and more efficient. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and SIPTU have developed proposals to enhance the levels of payments made under the scheme. The ICTU-SIPTU proposals include the following: the qualifying period should be reduced from the current two years continuous service to one year; lump sum payments should be increased to three weeks for every year of service irrespective of age; one additional week to be increased to two weeks; and the weekly pay ceiling to be increased to £500, €634.87, and automatically indexed thereafter. The Tánaiste met ICTU on 6 March last, where its proposals were outlined to her. The Tánaiste is currently consulting with the other social partners involved to seek their observations with a view to obtaining agreement by all sides on how the current statutory redundancy scheme should be evaluated in the wider context of social partnership. I assure this House that every effort will be made to make the necessary payments to the workers of Wexford Electronix as quickly as possible.
I also want to assure the excellent Deputies, all four of them, who have spoken here on behalf of the people of Wexford and the workers of Wexford Electronix that I take very seriously the requests they have made and the continuous efforts they have made to save the company and support industry and development in their county. The full resources of the Department and its State agencies will be given and they will do their utmost to ensure that a replacement industry is found for this location as rapidly as possible.