I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this serious issue on the Adjournment of the House. The IFI plant in the Cork harbour area closed some months ago with the loss of hundreds of jobs. I submitted this matter for the Adjournment debate early this morning to the office of the Ceann Comhairle. I expected that the Minister, Deputy Harney, or one of her junior Ministers would be in the House to address the issue of the problems in the ADM plant in Ringaskiddy, County Cork. It is unacceptable that neither the Minister nor her junior Minister is in the House tonight. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, who is a courteous man. I presume he will read out a script in response. I find it unacceptable that none of the 12 Fianna Fáil Members from Cork city and county are in the House to speak on an issue of fundamental importance to the economy of the Cork region. I wonder if I am wasting my time in raising this matter. The arrogance and indifference of this Government is unbelievable. It believes it has four more years to go before an election and if ADM goes down the tubes it will be long forgotten by then.
I want to highlight the plight of the workers in ADM, 80 of whom have been locked out since 5 March 2003. This situation has put 75 members of different unions out of work. They are workers represented by SIPTU, APT branch, TEEU and AEEU.
The company met with union representatives in February and outlined its need to change work practices and procedures. The union wanted to discuss the ramifications of such changes but the ADM management refused saying that the changes were non-negotiable. The union committee suggested that management should speak to the workers. Union meetings were called and the overwhelming majority of SIPTU branch two workers voted against the company proposals. The union officials suggested that the case be referred either to the Labour Relations Commission or to a full Labour Court hearing. The company refused and this was a breach of current company-union agreement and also in breach of the partnership criteria.
Most of the employees are shareholders in the company and have an average of about 25 years service. The company insisted on the implementation of the changes on 5 March 2003 regardless. When workers arrived for work that morning, senior management stood at the entrance and refused them admission. They were locked out and denied due process. That is an incredible situation in 2003.
The workers applied for social welfare benefits from 5 March and some have not yet received any decision and some have been refused social welfare payments. On 13 March 2003, the company informed the workers that they had been temporarily laid off. In all that time they received not one cent from the company or from the State. Many of those workers have contributed to the State for 40 years and more. They are being denied their rights by the Government in their hour of need. A deaf ear is being given to the behaviour of the company. The workers and their families have been demoralised by the company. They are suffering the stress and anxiety of being without work and severe financial hardship.
I am appealing to the Government to take immediate action to remedy the situation. I appeal to the Minister of State to ask the Minister to arrange talks between the company and union representatives. Cork cannot take any more of this type of behaviour from this Government.