Workers' Rights: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— the failure of the previous Government to legislate to implement the recommendations of the ‘Expert Examination and Review of Laws on the Protection of Employee Interests when assets are separated from the operating entity (Duffy-Cahill Report)’ which was commissioned following the closure of Clerys’ department store, and that this report made six recommendations aimed at protecting the rights of workers made redundant through insolvency;

— that a key recommendation of that report was that the State should have the right to chase up transferred assets and to use them to fund payments due to workers as per collective agreements; and

— workers at Debenhams Ireland are being denied their right to four weeks redundancy pay per year of service as per a collective agreement with their union, Mandate;

further notes the distinct possibility of a large number of closures and insolvencies due to the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which could affect thousands of laid-off workers; and

calls on the Government to:

— introduce emergency legislation to implement the Duffy-Cahill Report recommendations as a matter of urgency; and

— examine the need for a ring-fenced insolvency fund, such as exists in several European Union states, to allow for all payments due to workers laid off by an insolvent company, which could be financed by a levy on employers Pay Related Social Insurance.

I am sharing time with Deputy Harkin. The priorities of a Government are shown not just by what it does, but also by what it does not do. That is precisely what we are dealing with here. When it comes to weighing up workers' rights against the interests of employers and business, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael always know exactly where their priorities lie. In that regard, I am looking at amendment No. 1 tabled by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys. I know how I feel and the workers feel on this issue.

Following the insolvencies at Clerys and Connolly Shoes which left workers high and dry, the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, commissioned an expert review to examine possible changes to company and employment law to protect workers in situations of tactical insolvency. The expert review, known as the Duffy Cahill report, made six important recommendations. The report was welcomed by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Clerys workers but was vehemently resisted in the consultation process by the employers body, IBEC. IBEC recommended no action be taken. Surprise, surprise, that is exactly what happened. As I stated, the priorities of a Government are shown by what it does not do and its inaction in order to serve certain vested interests.

What precisely was called for in the report? It made six recommendations which essentially relate to employment law. The first recommendation was for the removal of the insolvency exception in regard to an employer notifying the Minister of a collective redundancy, thus allowing all redundant workers access to the 30-day consultation period. This would give unions an opportunity to negotiate and allow employees to be paid for at least 30 days. Second, it recommended the imposition of a de facto obligation on a decision maker, that is, a company the actions of which may cause insolvency. The third recommendation was to increase redress for workers for a failure to notify and consult. The fourth and probably most important recommendation proposed that the State be given the power to recover assets or proceeds to cover the cost to the State - the taxpayer - in situations of tactical insolvency. The fifth recommendation related to a statutory power to injunct and the sixth recommended an enhanced redundancy payment where an agreement was in place or there was a reasonable expectation of payment in excess of the statutory two weeks per year allowance.

The recommendation relating to assets is key to the solution to the issue facing the workers laid off by Debenhams Ireland.

If the Duffy Cahill recommendations had been implemented, the State would be in a position to pay the four weeks' redundancy due and then chase up Debenhams to recover the €10 million cost. Debenhams workers point out there is stock worth €25 million in all the 11 stores in Ireland. KPMG, the liquidator, has valued the stock at €12.5 million at cost, not sale, price. There is also the asset of Debenhams' online business, which the workers reckon is worth up to €30 million, which was transferred out of Ireland to the UK this summer.

The claim made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment that Debenhams is not a tactical insolvency does not stand up to the facts, which are that assets were transferred to the UK and debts were transferred from the UK to Ireland. The State must move to legislate and do so as an emergency measure. The Dáil has enacted emergency legislation on numerous occasions over recent years, particularly in bailing out the banks.

The liquidator must be instructed to extend the consultation process while such legislation is being enacted. Indeed, the State, as a gesture of its good intentions, should now pay the Debenhams workers what they are owed from the Social Insurance Fund with the intention to recover the cost from Debenhams at a later date.

This is an issue which will not go away. A tsunami of insolvencies can be expected in the next few months. A total of 69.500 companies are availing of the wage subsidy scheme. Many will not survive as the scheme is reduced and phased out altogether.

Even with the recommendations of Duffy Cahill enacted in law, there will be circumstances whereby there will simply not be liquidity or assets to meet workers' entitlements. That is why I have raised in this motion the need for a special insolvency fund. Such funds exist in many EU countries and are used to pay redundancies, wages due, holiday pay, etc. to laid-off workers. In Germany, this fund is resourced by a 0.6% payroll levy on employers. In Ireland, we have the lowest level of employers' PRSI in the EU, at 10.75% - less than half the EU average. I know there will be a hue and cry from employers about tax on jobs, but this would be a solidarity insolvency fund. We pay our PRSI for health. It means that those workers who are healthy pay into a fund to support those who are sick. The concept is solidarity and this is what should be done here for workers who have been laid off through tactical insolvencies. I note the Government amendment states that this is a useful suggestion to be examined. There is no commitment and we can expect no action. Regarding the Government amendment's rejection of the Duffy Cahill recommendations, what we have is a cut-and-paste job from IBEC's submission to the consultation process set up after the report.

Then there is a contradiction in the Government's amendment. After stating clearly there is no need for any change as per the review of the Company Law Review Group, we are promised yet another review. It is clear the Government has no intention of acting on these important issues. Workers' rights, to my mind, are simply not a priority of the Government.

I placed this Private Members' motion on the agenda today because the ex-employees in Debenhams last week took the action of occupying two stores. They raised the issue again and we debated it in the Dáil. I was hoping that the Government would come back with something much more urgent, thought out and detailed in support of these Debenhams workers, the St. Mary's Telford workers where the Sisters of Charity are trying to go into liquidation, and workers in the future. That is what we wanted today. We are not getting it. I am calling on the Dáil to make an exception for once to make workers' rights the priority.

First, I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Collins, for bringing forward this motion because it lays bear the completely unacceptable and totally disgraceful situation whereby redundant workers are being deprived of agreed redundancy payments due mainly to the transfer of company assets.

The core question that we are asking here today is how the law can protect employees during the redundancy process and help ensure that limited liability and corporate restructuring are not used to avoid a company's obligation to its employees. We have sound reasons to believe that the Duffy Cahill report provides many of the answers to that core question. We know existing provisions do not work. We can see what has happened to the Clerys workers and now the scandalous situation regarding the Debenhams workers. The Duffy Cahill report has as its main objective an examination into ways in which a similar occurrence can be avoided in the future and that, of course, refers to what happened to the Clerys workers. If some or all of those recommendations had been implemented, it is likely that the Debenhams workers would be paid their rightful entitlements. As Duffy Cahill states in regard to the Clerys workers, "While the transaction that produced this result may have been lawful, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it would be preferable if it were not." Amen to that. Ask any of the exhausted Debenhams workers pounding the streets for more than 100 days.

Duffy Cahill looks at the situation where assets are separated from the operation, the operating entity subsequently becomes insolvent and goes into liquidation, and how in those circumstances we can ensure the legitimate interests of employees can be more effectively safeguarded. The report is comprehensive and it does not rush headlong into new legislative proposals. For example, it examines whether more effective use could be made of existing employment legislation. It looks at how employees could negotiate better terms and conditions beyond their statutory entitlements, whether employees' entitlements could be ring-fenced in the event of a transfer of assets, and many other questions. Unfortunately, time does not allow me to go through them in detail. The essential point here is this is a considered and detailed report which puts forward reasonable, credible and workable proposals to help safeguard redundant workers' entitlements.

Deputy English, as Minister of State, and the Government do not want to see Debenhams workers left without their rightful entitlements. Expressing regret and sympathy is fine as far as it goes but it is utterly useless. It is basically redundant for the redundant workers because it does not solve their problem and it will not solve similar problems in the future. Everybody, no matter which side of the House he or she is on, recognises that we need to amend our legislation and, if nothing else, this report provides a sound basis for doing that.

I was especially interested to look at some of the legislation that we now have in place and its inadequacies to protect workers who are made redundant where companies transfer their assets. Much of this legislation is derived from EU directives.

Some protections are in place. For instance, more than 1,500 workers made redundant by Waterford Crystal were able to use EU legislation to vindicate their rights and entitlements and the European Court of Justice, ECJ, ruled in their favour and against the State in the case of underfunding of a company pension scheme. However, it is never easy to take on the power, might and resources of the State. Those workers did and they established those rights not only for themselves but for all Irish workers for which I congratulate them. Nevertheless, the Duffy Cahill report's forensic examination of existing provisions in Irish law that derive from EU legislation shows that these provisions, as we already knew, are inadequate to protect redundant workers in the situation of transfer of assets. Some European countries, including Germany and Austria, have unilaterally established levy funds on private sector employers for this very purpose because EU legislation does not provide the required protections. One of the main reasons for this is the existence of a strong tradition of collective bargaining in these countries, something that is missing in Ireland.

I will take a closer look at some of the relevant legislation. The Protection of Employees Act provides for consultation of workers. However, it is telling that a successful case was taken against Ireland to comply with the requirements of the underlying directive, the Collective Redundancies Directive. Ireland had to rewrite our legislation comprehensively after we lost the case. We had legislation that allowed employers to allow someone else to control the operation and hide behind an assertion that they did not know what was going on, but the ECJ insisted Ireland change that legislation. It is incredible that such a get out clause was there for Irish employers and perhaps it indicates something far deeper about how we sometimes transpose EU legislation. I do not have time to deal with that today, but it is one of several examples I know of where EU legislation was not transposed into Irish law with a view to protecting an individual, the ordinary person or worker, but rather sought to insulate the State in some cases and corporate interests in others from adhering to requirements of specific EU legislation.

I was most interested in the directive on the protection of employees in the transfer of undertakings. Unfortunately neither the directive itself nor our legislation provides any realistic mechanisms for protecting workers in cases where the essential assets of the business, as opposed to the business itself, are transferred. None of our employment law as it stands could be safely relied upon to provide redress in the current situation.

Another area worth examining is the Companies Act. It has some potential where any transfer of assets was conducted with the intention of perpetrating a fraud, such as deliberately to deprive redundant workers of their rights. If this could be proved in a court of law, there could be redress. However, tellingly the Duffy Cahill report states that in regard to any court application the likely complexity and the costs it would entail would make it an unattractive prospect for creditors with limited resources, which surely describes the Debenhams workers. No worker and no trade union could attempt to use the provision in the Companies Act because they could not afford it.

The legislation must be amended to provide protections to redundant workers in the case of transfer of assets. The Duffy Cahill report lists six proposals for this which my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, has gone through in detail. Taken together they could provide the missing safety net for workers who find themselves in the position in which the Debenhams workers now find themselves. These proposals are credible, well researched and have sound legal basis. I ask the Government to give them the serious consideration that they deserve.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“acknowledges the difficulties faced by the workers affected by the loss of jobs resulting from Covid-19 and, in particular the liquidation of Debenhams Ireland;

notes that:

— the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, as well as the relevant Ministers of State have met on a number of occasions, with Debenhams employees and their representatives, to hear directly from them their views and concerns;

— in respect of redundancy entitlements, it is the responsibility of the employer in the first instance to pay statutory redundancy and other wage related entitlements to eligible employees;

— the vast majority of employers act honourably and with full consideration for their workers when experiencing trading difficulties giving rise to redundancies;

— Debenhams Ireland is undergoing a High Court supervised liquidation and that there is no statutory role for Ministers of the Government to interfere with or influence that process;

— there is a clear distinction between the situation that pertained to Clerys and that which pertains to Debenhams – the former involving a significant property asset held in a separate company and not available to discharge obligations to creditors including employees, the latter not known to have any such asset;

— the only asset reported to be in consideration is some stock in the stores and that there may be many other legitimate claims on that asset, including from the suppliers of that stock, as well as public monies due to local authorities and the Revenue Commissioners;

— where, as a result of the insolvency of a company, the employer is unable to pay redundancy entitlements, whether basic statutory entitlements or enhanced redundancy collective agreements, the role of the State is to provide a safety net for former employees by paying statutory redundancy entitlements from the Social Insurance Fund;

— the Redundancy and Insolvency sections of the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is engaged with the High Court appointed liquidator and will ensure that all claims in respect of employees of Debenhams are dealt with expeditiously; and

— as is proper to the role of Government, the ‘Job Loss Protocol’ has been activated for employees at Debenhams Ireland, putting in place all available supports and information for workers, including on welfare entitlements, job-search assistance and upskilling needs and opportunities;

recalls that the ‘Expert Examination and Review of Laws on the Protection of Employee Interests when assets are separated from the operating entity (Duffy-Cahill Report)’:

— which was commissioned by the Government in the aftermath of the Clerys closure,

made a number of future-orientated recommendations;

— highlighted how the issues raised by that event do not have simple solutions and would require further careful consideration involving consultation with many stakeholders;

— stated that ‘it is not desirable to create a special class of worker with legal rights that go beyond the generality of workers’, and noted the difficulties of determining whether an entitlement to enhanced redundancy would arise; and

— was sent to the Company Law Review Group (CLRG) in 2016 as part of the work of that group in advising the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation on any changes that it considered necessary to company law;

further recalls that:

— in 2017, in parallel with the Duffy-Cahill Report, the CLRG undertook a root and branch review of the Companies Act 2014 to address concerns raised in respect of the protection of employees and unsecured creditors and the report, which emanated from this review by the CLRG, also generally found that the current provisions of the Companies Act 2014 provide a comprehensive framework which strikes a balance between the interests of members of a company and other stakeholders, including employees; and

— The CLRG did not include the implementation of the Duffy-Cahill Report in its recommendations;

considers that the issue of the retrospective application of future legislation is highly problematic and must be subject to legal advice from the Attorney General;

further notes that the Government is committed to, and is determined to, deliver on a number of actions in the Programme for Government, including to:

— review whether the legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers;

— review the Companies Acts with a view to addressing the practice of trading entities splitting their operations between trading and property with the result being the trading business (including jobs) go into insolvency and assets are taken out of the original business; and

— examine the legal provision that pertains to any sale to a connected party following insolvency of a company including who can object and allowable grounds of an objection;

agrees that the proposal from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to examine the need for a ring-fenced insolvency fund is a valuable suggestion, worthy of further consideration and notes that the Government has further committed that it will progress this examination;

emphasises that broad consideration, not only across Government, but also among stakeholders such as employers, will be necessary in respect of such a fund; and

calls on all parties involved in the Debenhams dispute to enter into discussions and engage towards a fair resolution.

I share with Deputies Joan Collins, Connolly, Fitzmaurice, Harkin, McNamara and Pringle and the many other Deputies who contributed to the discussion on this matter this evening and on other occasions in recent months-----

Where is the Minister?

-----the sympathy with the former staff of Debenhams.

Where is the Minister?

Is this the way the Deputy wants to go again?

I want to know where the Minister is. The Debenhams workers would like to know where is the Minister.

The Deputy will appreciate that this debate was supposed to take place this morning. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, was scheduled to take the debate and to lead off and I was to close it because there is a cross over between our two Departments. The change in today's business meant that there was a conflict and she could not be here this afternoon. Everyone knows what happened yesterday with the result that today's business is completely changed. I cannot keep explaining to the Deputy that everyone makes an effort to be here. Deputy Barry knows that but if he wants to make it an issue, that is his choice. I will try to concentrate on what is helpful to the Debenhams workers.

In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, her presence in this Chamber has been very regular and frequent. I accept that if she could be here, she would be here.

That is absolutely the case and I can confirm that she had planned to be here at 10 a.m. I spoke to her on this issue quite a lot over recent days and met with her on it and other matters last week.

We all share the sympathies. I have met Debenhams workers and their representatives. We have engaged with Mandate and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to try to tease through possible solutions and efforts to try to help them with their campaign. It is a difficult time for them and those who have been out on strike for the last 160 days to campaign for their rights and entitlements. It is a traumatic thing at the best of times and it is a horrible thing for any worker to lose his or her job. It is an experience that many workers across Ireland are having as a result of the pandemic which only exacerbates the anxiety which many workers feel as they re-enter a very uncertain jobs market. The timing made it even more difficult for the workers of Debenhams to be able to exercise their rights. I recognise this and it was a point well made to me by ICTU's Patricia King and Gerry Light from Mandate. I commend Mandate and all the representatives and the workers who have tried to champion the workers' cause, to work with them and to negotiate. There were two aims, namely, to realise their collective bargaining entitlements and their hopes and aspirations that they agreed to many years ago, but also to ensure that the system was changed to try to prevent this from happening to others in future and to ensure the position of redundant workers is improved, as Deputy Harkin noted. The Tánaiste, myself, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and the Taoiseach and others have met the representative and we are committed to working with them and working with the House to see how we can strengthen legislation, review the proposals in Duffy Cahill and make those changes if we can get agreement.

We cannot commit to other parts of the motion and we have tabled an amendment. I ask Members to agree to our amendment and to work with us on this over the months ahead as we look at whether there are areas to work on with the recommendations we have and whether there could be further recommendations to strengthen the position of employees in future redundancies.

With the notable exception of large grocery outlets, the retail sector has perhaps been particularly affected by the measures that nations around the world have had to take in response to the spread of Covid-19. I have probably spent the last month engaging with every representative body in the retail sector to try to work through the future of the sector and deal with the Covid fallout to save as many jobs as we can. We have been examining how to get back to a growth state in order that we can increase employment in the retail sector and strengthen its capacity to employ more people and develop the skills in this area. We are committed to this as a sector because it is a major employer in Ireland, and we want to build on that.

In the case of Debenhams, it had come through a number of turbulent years and an examinership process, only to be dealt the final, fatal blow in March of this year. Sadly, it is not the only retail outlet to experience a decline due to the changing nature of shopping habits and other external factors. We are concerned that more closures will follow, both at home and abroad. We know Debenhams UK is also in grave danger, battling to avoid liquidation and having to lay off staff. This is a turbulent time for many in the sector.

I applaud the workers, their representatives and the Deputies who have made the case for them. They have campaigned to ensure they get the best possible outcome from this difficult situation. This Government, along with officials in relevant Departments, including the Departments of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Employment Affairs and Social Protection, has engaged with the workers, with Mandate Trade Union and with ICTU. We have engaged with the Debenhams UK administrator and sought advice from the Attorney General in an effort to assist where we can. We have been doing that over the last couple of months. Unfortunately, there are limits to what we can achieve for these particular workers at the present time. While everyone naturally wants to see their campaign be successful, there is only so much that Ministers are able to do and that we can do as a Government.

Representations had been made by Mandate several months ago to seek ministerial intervention in the consultation process that was ongoing at that time between the employer, the liquidators and the workers and their representatives. This request was in the context of the Protection of Employment Act 1977, which obliges employers to engage in a consultation process and to notify the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection of potential collective redundancies. That Act, which was drafted in an era before the advanced industrial relations framework of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court that we now have, provides no Government Minister with the power to influence a particular outcome or to direct a party to take a particular course of action in respect of a redundancy situation. The Attorney General confirmed that this is even more so the case where there is a High Court-appointed liquidator who is in charge rather than the employer. The compliance requirements under the 1977 Act are that a consultation process should be initiated between the employer and the employees' representatives, that specific information should be supplied by the employer to the employees' representatives and that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection should be notified of the proposed collective redundancy. Officials in that Department have confirmed that all these requirements were complied with in the case of the Debenhams liquidators.

One element of this situation is a clear frustration on the part of the workers and their trade union representatives with the liquidators. Deputies will be aware that the appropriate avenue of redress in that respect with officers appointed by the High Court cannot lie with a Government Minister. In the context of Debenhams Ireland undergoing a court-supervised liquidation, I want to emphasise to the House that a company cannot merely assert that it is insolvent. Many Deputies have commented here today and on previous occasions about the issue of assets, transfer of assets, tactical insolvency and so on. That is not as simple as people portray it in this House and the courts have a judgment call on that. It must apply for an official court liquidation and, as such, the liquidation will be under the supervision of the Irish courts system. It is not the political system that makes that judgment but the courts system. It is not possible or proper that a third party should seek to change the orderly distribution of assets and discharge of debts necessitated by the liquidation given the statutory framework that we currently have. That is why I continue to call on all parties to enter into discussions and engage to get a fair resolution with a clear-eyed understanding of the financial realities of the company.

Many Deputies draw a comparison with the Duffy-Cahill report and try to portray it as being as simple as implementing that report to stop this from happening. To be clear, the Duffy-Cahill report was done in response to the Clerys situation. Many Deputies consistently make a connection between Debenhams and Clerys, and I am not convinced that they are right to do that because they are different situations. It does not mean that it is as simple as us implementing the recommendations of the Duffy-Cahill report. While saying that, we are committed to reviewing it, but Members here draw the conclusion that it is a magic wand because Clerys, in their view, is the same as Debenhams. That does not prove it and does not seem to be the case at all.

That is not what I said.

As we all know with regard to Clerys, there was a substantial and valuable property asset on O'Connell Street that was structured as a separate legal entity to that of the failing retail operations business. The Deputies are, by intimation, making an incorrect comparison between the liquidation of Debenhams, where there is actually no evidence of significant assets still being owned by that company or by a related company, and that of Clerys department store, where an asset was known to exist but shown to be out of reach of the workers for the purposes of redundancy payments. They are different scenarios but that is not always portrayed in debates.

The Clerys workers, in the end, received a discretionary goodwill payment from the owners of the property asset, in addition to their State-paid statutory redundancy, but I am unaware of any prospects of a similar payment that could be made in the case of Debenhams and certainly not one that I as a Minister of State can facilitate. Other Members have a different view on that and I am happy to take any information they have into that discussion.

In the case of Debenhams, there is no reason to believe the company is in a financial position to pay the workers the collectively bargained "four weeks per year of service" enhanced redundancy package that their trade unions achieved in the past. According to reports, it does not seem possible at this point for the liquidator to pay them the statutory minimum amount. If Deputies have different evidence, we will certainly look at it.

We have been saying that for months.

Regarding the Government's role, we will make sure that the legal rights of the workers are fully vindicated. That means making sure they get at least two weeks' payment per year of service, which is the statutory minimum redundancy payment. If the liquidator in the company cannot pay that, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will pay for it out of the social insurance fund. Officials have been in contact with the liquidators in that respect and are progressing with that.

It also falls to that Department to ensure the workers get whatever welfare payments and income supports they are entitled to. We will make sure they are given opportunities to retrain, get access to adult education where appropriate and get assistance in seeking new jobs. The job loss protocol has been activated for employees at Debenhams, putting in place all available supports and information for workers. Officials have been facilitating the workers with online information sessions and other forms of assistance in recent weeks. Indeed, workers have told me that the job loss protocol has been helpful. It does not provide significant compensation for the difficulty that they are going through, but it will certainly help them on the journey back into the retail sector.

We are dealing with the unions about future solutions. We have committed to doing that quickly to review the recommendations of the Duffy-Cahill report and other recommendations and suggestions. I have asked ICTU for more evidence and information, and for its legal opinion, because it might differ from ours in some cases. We are prepared, as a Government, to review this and work on it. That does not mean that we can do it immediately. We have to engage with all stakeholders to see what we can do.

It has been four years since the report.

There are suggestions of levies and such which we are prepared to look at.

The Minister of State has expressed sympathy with employees who are out of a job and talked about how difficult it is for them. He has talked about drawing parallels or saying that the Clerys situation is the same as this one. I ask him to read the motion because nowhere have we asked for sympathy. I thank my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, for tabling the motion, and I acknowledge the work to date of Solidarity-People Before Profit and Sinn Féin in raising this matter. If one reads this motion, one sees no reference to Clerys. It points to a report that was carried out four years and six months ago, which I will come back to. It is a little disingenuous of the Minister of State to talk about us on this side of the House making simplistic comparisons. The question for the Minister of State is why he has not acted on the Duffy-Cahill report four years and six months later.

I acknowledge the workers who are out in Galway today, trying to prevent the disposal of the one asset that is left, which was valued at approximately €20 million, on Eyre Street. I am not sure what it is valued at now. They have been out for over 162 days and I have proudly stood with them, which was the least I could do. The least the Minister of State might do is stand up here today and tell us why the Duffy-Cahill report has not been implemented. Let us look at page 45 of the report. The six modest proposals in the report "taken together aim to ensure that employees are treated with dignity". Can the Minister of State imagine that? The six proposals arising from this report tell us that employees should be treated with dignity. The report proposes that "if collective redundancies are to occur", there should be "an opportunity for employees to engage and be consulted". Can the Minister of State imagine something as basic as engaging and being consulted?

I will come back to the reference in the report to being "armed with the leverage of a threat of statutory applications to recover assets". The report merely hopes that "If effectively enforced, the proposed increased sanctions for failing to respect the rights of employees [would] deter conduct of the type identified".

I remind the House that the Duffy Cahill report was commissioned in January 2016 by a Minister and a Minister of State who are still Members of this House. At the time, Deputy Bruton was Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation while Deputy Nash was Minister of State with responsibility for business and employment. They commissioned the report and it was done very quickly. It came back in March 2016, which was very good. The terms of reference were extremely restrictive but notwithstanding that, it came up with six recommendations which, as I said already, are very modest. The recommendations are in respect of consultation, obligation to notify, sanctions for failure to consult, a mechanism for the recovery of assets, the use of an injunction and a mechanism to ensure payments of enhanced redundancy. I think they had a twin-track approach, looking at the existing legislation to see if it could be used better and also looking at amendments to employment legislation.

It jumped out at me and, I am sure, at everyone who read it that in respect of existing legislation the report found the Companies Act 2014 needs not amendment but more use: "It is striking that many of the provisions of the Companies Act which may be of assistance are not frequently invoked (such as section 608) or are not invoked at all (such as section 599)." The report tells us that among the reasons for that are the cost implications and there is a specific recommendation that the Minister might be able to do something there and as to what he might do. The Minister of State stands here today and not once has he addressed why there has been a failure to implement those six recommendations. It is a matter of legislation that already exists but is under-used or not used at all, in addition to very basic amendments to ensure employees can be treated with dignity and have a minimum of consultation.

The Minister of State stands here today and tells us that this is distinctly different from Clerys. The answers is that is not correct. Yes, there was certainly more than a sleight of hand but a deliberate action to separate the business into the operations section and another company so as to avoid having any assets that would have to be shared out with the employees. That is different from now but there are many other similarities. The Government's failure to act on the Duffy Cahill report is just not acceptable. I have asked before for plain and simple language. I ask the Minister of State to, please, tell us why the Government has not acted on it and when it is going to act on it. That is very simple. Are we just going to shred it, throw it in the bin and start all over again? If that is the answer, let us do that but let us stop all this double-talk and double-language. The least the Debenhams workers deserve after 162 days of standing in all sorts of weather and facing arrest by An Garda Síochána simply for drawing attention to their plight is a certain measure of honesty. None of us aspires to being a saint but plain language that we all understand is the least they deserve. If the Duffy Cahill report had been implemented there would have been a statutory entitlement to a 30-day consultation. There would have been access to various statutory measures if it had been implemented, without a doubt. There would have been a better enforcement of the enhanced redundancy payments at a minimum.

If we look at the sector we are talking about, we see that the Debenhams protestors are mostly women. The Oireachtas Library & Research Service has written a very interesting article, Anticipating the Gendered Impacts of Covid-19 It found that women disproportionately make up sectors such as retail and hospitality that were entirely shut down due to Covid and are therefore more likely to lose earnings. A study by the fiscal institute showed at the time of the lockdown that 17% of female employees were in a sector that is now shut down in comparison to 13% of male employees. The same position applies across Europe. Research by McKinsey showed that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the Covid crisis than men's because of existing gender inequalities. I refer also to research from the ESRI and so on in respect of the gender pay gap. The burden of unpaid work has become more pronounced during the pandemic, negatively impacting many women’s ability to work from home and deepening existing economic inequalities. According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, women make up 82% of all cashiers in the EU. While there are many other cases, the two high-profile cases of Clerys and Debenhams, to which the Duffy Cahill report is particularly relevant, relate to the retail sector in which substantially more women are employed than men. I do not ask for any different treatment for men and women but it is important to realise the gender imbalance and to realise how women have suffered disproportionately as a result of various Governments' failure to bring in proper legislation to protect all employees' rights but particularly women's rights.

I am going to finish up on the loan and indebtedness of Debenhams in England. The Irish retail outlet was used as a co-guarantor of that indebtedness, which in itself raises questions. Let us look at the entities that triggered the insolvency. We have our own Bank of Ireland, which we partly own, as well as Barclays and hedge funds from America triggering the insolvency process. One has to ask how Debenhams Ireland came to be used as a co-guarantor in respect of loans in England with all that ensued. I am simply raising that aspect for the Minister of State to look at. In my last 15 seconds I ask him to read the motion and, when he is giving his concluding few words, to tell us why the report has not been implemented and if the Government is going to shred it.

I am looking at a letter that was sent to the Minister of State from Patricia King and is dated 31 August. It is addressed to the Minister of State with responsibility for business, employment and retail and to the Department of employment and enterprise. Are we not terribly lucky in that we would have had two Ministers to choose from? I fully respect that the schedule was changed but neither senior Minister is now available. That sends a very clear message to the Debenhams workers in particular. I do not mean that disrespectfully to the Minister of State and I am sure he will not take it like that. It is very instructive of the attitude this Government has to workers and workers' rights that neither senior Minister, when it could have been either of them, could make themselves available. We are all busy and sometimes in politics as in life it is about priorities. They have not prioritised the Debenhams workers.

I looked at the legislative programme. It does not prioritise workers' rights. There is nothing in it to prevent tactical insolvencies, nothing about a statutory pay scheme although we are in the middle of a global pandemic, nothing about strengthening workers' rights to organise and nothing about making Covid-19 a notifiable disease. There is nothing at all, actually, that would speak to workers. This absence speaks volumes as far as the workers are concerned. They see it and they know it. They know exactly what is going on. It is exactly the same as when the man who is now Tánaiste was running for the leadership of Fine Gael and tried to run on a platform of implementing a good old-fashioned Thatcherite strike ban, which is exactly what it was. That might appeal to Fine Gael's base but it does not go down well with workers at all. They see Fine Gael and they know the attitude that it has.

The programme for Government, which was published on 15 June, includes a commitment to "Review whether the legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers." That was 93 days ago. I just saw a tweet from Mandate outlining this.

The Government has had 93 days.

The Minister of State might use his concluding remarks to advise the House exactly what stage that review is at. I could save the Minister of State a lot of trouble, I could save his Department staff an awful lot of trouble, and indeed I could save a lot of headaches for the two Ministers with responsibility. The provisions do not protect the rights of workers. The legal provisions do not protect the rights of workers. The Mandate workers would not be in dispute if the legal provisions existed to protect their rights and their collective agreement. Those workers are on the streets because the legal provisions do not exist. Patricia King is writing to the Government because the legal provisions do not exist. The general secretary of Mandate is also writing to the Government because the legal provisions do not exist. That is the review done.

The Government has had 93 days and nothing has been done on this. Nothing has been done that is of any use to those workers. I pay tribute to them; of course I do. I have stood with them. I have nothing but admiration for their determination. It is very important that we do not lose sight of this: while they are fighting for a redundancy claim at the end of this, there will be no job for them. They will be jobless. They will be unemployed as we head into a period of sustained high unemployment. These men and women have given decades of loyal service to their employer under a collective agreement, and I have negotiated plenty of them, which anyone would know always involves a bit of give and take. Around the negotiating table the workers would have something to give and something they wanted from the employer, which goes into the collective agreement. This employer, however, has walked away and the Government has said that is grand, it cannot do anything about it, and when the Opposition raises the issue in the Dáil the Government says it is not that simple, that it is actually quite complicated. The Government has had 93 days to get it done since it put the matter into its programme for Government. Nothing has been done for the workers. They hear the message very clearly. They are sick of the tea and sympathy. They want some action.

The general secretary of congress has written to the Government outlining what she believes is a solution. It is echoed in the motion, and I commend the Deputies on bringing the motion forward today. The question is actually a very simple one, much and all as the Minister of State wishes it to be complicated. It is a very simple question: what has the Government done for the past 93 days in bringing this forward and reviewing it? Will the Minister of State show us where the protections are? If the protections exist, those workers will want to see them. They want to invoke those protections. It is very simple. It is about which side one is on. It is about who the Minister of State comes in here to protect and what he prioritises. I put it to the Minister of State that the Debenhams workers and every other worker in the State sees very clearly whose side he is on and they see very clearly who he comes in here to protect. We will not stand for that and they will not stand for that. The time is right now for action on this. The Minister of State cannot say that he will work with us over the coming months. That is not fair.

I met with Debenhams workers in my constituency on Monday. I have also met with them on a number of previous occasions. They are a fantastic group of people. They remain strong. They are unbowed and unbroken. If anybody thinks they will wait this out and expect the workers to give up their protest, it is not going to happen. They would be very much mistaken. The workers' passion and commitment to their cause is as strong now as it was in April when Debenhams, using the cover of Covid, closed its shops throughout the State. Today marks 160 days since the start of the pickets outside the shops. The workers did this, as the Minister of State is aware, to make sure the assets were not taken out and so the workers could keep some chance of getting some sort of fair redundancy, to which they are entitled. Many of the workers have worked for Debenhams for decades, as Deputy O'Reilly has said. One man I met in Limerick had worked in the company for 40 years. They have ended up outside their own stores and the workers never thought they would be doing that.

It must also be remembered that when this is over, even if they get what they are looking for, their jobs are gone. The workers were offered nothing by the company. The workers, Sinn Féin and other Opposition Members have lobbied the Government for changes to legislation since April and in previous Dáileanna. I spoke on this on a number of occasions in a previous Dáil with other Ministers. We were told that the Duffy Cahill report would be reviewed, would be looked at and would be implemented. I also received the letter from ICTU. There is no legislation to protect the workers here. It does not exist. As Deputy O'Reilly has said, the Minister of State can save himself from going through all the reviews. The protection does not exist and is simply not there.

A specific issue was raised with me by a striker on Monday about online sales. I was contacted by a postal worker who claimed that the number of packages being sent by post from Debenhams online stores remains very strong and consistent. The packages continue to flow into Ireland without interruption while the workers picket through rain, hail and sunshine to get their just settlements. I put it to the Minister of State that this is simply not acceptable and is not fair.

The Taoiseach met with some of the workers recently and, by all accounts, he had some very nice words to say to them. Will he now follow up this lip service by supporting the motion and by assuring the House that the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report will be implemented? The time for platitudes and kind words has passed. The strike action has passed 160 days now. Action is needed as the workers have campaigned for 160 days already. It is simply not fair. There is no doubt that they are not going away if they do not get what they are entitled to.

Ag 6.30 a.m., i mo chathair féin, cathair na Gaillimhe, sheas iaroibrithe Debenhams taobh amuigh den fhoirgneamh ina mbíodh siad ag obair agus iad ag éileamh a gcuid cearta bunúsacha. Tá siad tar éis seasamh taobh amuigh de na siopaí seo ar feadh os cionn 160 lá anois agus tá sé thar am dúinn seasamh leo.

At 6.30 a.m., workers of Debenhams in my home city of Galway started their picket outside their former employer. They have waited, protested, engaged for 161 days for a just exit package. They continue to stand outside the Debenhams stores as we debate this, to demand basic respect from an employer they gave so many years to. They feel abandoned and they have absolutely been abandoned. They have been abandoned by an employer they gave years of service to and they have been abandoned by this Government.

Before the Government says how was it to know, I say that we all knew. We saw what happened to the Clerys workers, and we have the recommendations from the Duffy Cahill report, which was released four years ago. This report needs to be implemented now. The time for hemming and hawing is long over. These workers are in a crisis right at this moment and we need to do this to protect them as well as many other workers who may face this same situation. It has happened before, it is happening now and we sure as hell cannot let it happen again.

We need legislation to protect workers and we need it urgently. This is not an Opposition idea. This idea is coming directly from the workers. They are not picketing for the sake of picketing. They have been forced to stand out on the picket line to fight for justice, a justice that we must ensure is delivered. This is only one of the many failings we continue to have in this State in relation to workers' rights. It is high time that we had protections in place for workers.

One hundred and forty jobs were lost in Galway. Some of these people had given more than 30 years' service. Collectively, the Galway workers have given more than 300 years of service to the company. Tá dualgas orainn seasamh leis na hoibrithe seo, tacú leo agus cinntiú nach féidir leis seo tarlú arís.

Over recent months I have got to know many of the women who, for the past 160 days, have maintained a vigil at the Debenhams store in Tralee. While I accept that the Tánaiste is not in the Chamber today, the workers are upset with him. They disagree with his comments that this is not a technical redundancy. They disagree with his insistence on differentiating between the Clerys situation and their situation. The workers fought successfully and insisted that the €20 million of stock belongs to the Irish company. The workers continue to be denied a fair and just settlement.

The Government amendment is full of excuses but short on ideas. What talks have taken place and what efforts has the Government made to discuss this with Debenhams to ensure a just and fair settlement for the workers? Legislation is required, if not for these workers then to protect workers in the future and to prevent this reoccurring. Two reviews and an examination are not enough. These women, Trish, Geraldine, Amy and all the other workers in Tralee and the thousand workers around the State, deserve better.

Táim an-bhuíoch don Teachta Joan Collins as an rún seo a chur os comhair an Tí. Five months ago more than 1,000 Debenhams workers in 11 stores across the Republic of Ireland were told the company was going into liquidation and they were to lose their jobs. Rather than set aside funds to pay the workers a proper redundancy package, the company transferred assets to the UK parent company and tried to claim the stock held in Irish stores as British stock. The treatment of its loyal and dedicated workforce is nothing short of scandalous, especially as many workers had given valuable service to the company for more than two decades. The workers did not take this shoddy treatment sitting down. They have stood up for their rights to fight back to claim what is rightfully theirs, and for justice.

What the Debenhams workers are asking for is not unreasonable. They just want a proper redundancy package to be put in place. Funds from the disposal of stock held in Irish stores, worth approximately €23 million, should be ringfenced to fund the workers redundancy package. Additionally, what they want and what everyone with workers' interests at heart wants is the implementation of the Duffy Cahill recommendations from 2016. The report compiled after the Clerys scandal has lain virtually dormant since then. Clearly this Government wants to protect big business. This new Government could have included in its programme for Government a commitment to address the issue of companies transferring assets from one business to another in order to evade their responsibilities to their workers. Deputy Micheál Martin was appointed Taoiseach on 27 June

Debenhams so members of the new Government would have been fully aware of the issues and the demands of the Debenhams workers when the Government was formed. The Government said that it would conduct a review of the issues relating to collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies but we already have a report that says everything that needs to be said about such matters. A review was conducted four years ago, resulting in the Duffy Cahill report. We do not need another report or a time-wasting review. All the workers want at this time is for the Debenhams management to abide by its own collective agreement on redundancies. The way these workers have been treated should never have been allowed to happen. It is the responsibility of this Government to make sure that it does not happen to any other workers in the future. It is not too late for this Government to act to ensure that the Debenhams workers get justice.

I commend the Deputies who tabled this Private Members' motion this evening. We were in the House earlier today talking about taxi drivers. Many of the partners, husbands and wives of the Debenhams workers are taxi drivers so they will not be rushing down to the bank to take out loans to go on holidays when the Government lifts the travel restrictions. The Duffy Cahill report has been mentioned already. When there were emergencies in this country in the past, including the bank bailout, the Government was quick enough to introduce emergency legislation. We are talking about real lives and real people here. The Debenhams workers have been let down. When one goes to work, one provides a service. One expects that when one gives goodness, one will get goodness back but this company has crapped them. That is as polite as I can be. I have been dealing with the workers in my office, as have my two Sinn Féin colleagues from Cork and the families are broken. I am not just talking about families close to the city where the Debenhams stores are located. The workers are well spread out and they are absolutely broken. We have a Taoiseach from Cork at the moment. Everyone from Cork is praising him but he cannot even look after his own in Cork.

Sometimes we come in here and score political points and throw insults across the floor but what we should be doing here is punishing the people who are crapping on our own. These are our own people, our own citizens who were working and paying tax into the Exchequer. What are we doing? We are giving them a pat on the back. A pat on the back is a foot and a half from a kick in the backside. That is what I was always told. It does not wear well with people when they cannot put food on the table. They are stressed out of their heads. We have problems at the moment with public transport and school buses, not to mention people who cannot get to work and who are trying to get their children to school. The taxi industry is probably tied into this. Nothing is working for them. All they want is fairness and respect. Even if the Government stood up and had a fight with Debenhams and the liquidators and said "No, we are not taking this; this is our country, these are our rules and these are our people and we are going to stand up for them" then some credit could be garnered from this. It is so disheartening to come in here, 160 days later, when a Debenhams worker is in Cork on a 12-hour fast. It is getting serious and I am appealing to the Government to support this motion, support the Debenhams workers and give them the respect they should have garnered when they got up early every morning to go to work, to earn a few bob, to send the gag to school, to pay their mortgage, pay for their car and so on. All of a sudden, that has been taken away from them and all we have is excuses from the Government. It claims that we cannot do this or that but we are supposed to be the legislators. We are supposed to be the people who write the rules. How many times have I come into this House and said that we were trying to fix something that was not broken? Today the system is broken and we should be putting it right. I cannot overstate the social and mental impact of this and the anguish that has been caused. The bravery of the workers and their families who are supporting them must be commended. If there is anything the Government can do in terms of doing the right thing and standing by the workers, standing by our own people, it should do it.

I congratulate Deputy Joan Collins for tabling this motion which is about justice and fairness for those who have, through no fault of their own, been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. When any business shuts down it is the workers' families who suffer but the reasons for businesses closing their doors are varied. There are questions over the purpose of the closure of Debenhams. There is a history of this type of action that impacts workers the most. For some, a workforce is just entries on a spreadsheet, numbers to move around a screen until they fit with the desired profit margin of the company concerned. Unfortunately this seems to be the case with the matter we are discussing today and we have also seen it with TalkTalk, Clerys and a number of others in recent times. There seems to be an ongoing failure of the authorities to address the ability of large companies to exploit loopholes at the expense of the average person but it is always the worker who suffers. We now have workers who remain in a precarious situation while Debenhams exploits the system. It is claiming that stock in Irish stores is its own and attempting to leave the workers with nothing other than their statutory entitlements, to be provided from the State's purse. This is despite the collective agreement reached by the Mandate union with Debenhams that stated that if workers were made redundant they would receive four weeks pay per year of service. The Taoiseach himself recently spoke some fine words about the contemptible way in which the workers were treated but that is as far as he went; just another soundbite from our Taoiseach. The Government has stood by while the workers demonstrate on the streets for their entitlements to be realised and for some notice to be taken by those in power. As Deputy Buckley said, that is us in here. Unfortunately that was not forthcoming and we find ourselves here today supporting a motion quite rightly tabled by Solidarity-People Before Profit. Sinn Féin has given the workers its staunch support throughout this process and as such we will be supporting this motion which demands, among other measures, that the State forgo its priority status as a creditor and for the liquidator to use those funds to pay the enhanced redundancy payments agreed between Debenhams workers and the company. It also seeks to ensure that where agreements for enhanced redundancies have been negotiated with workers, those are honoured as preferential creditors in any subsequent liquidation process. This motion calls for a fundamental change in how companies are allowed to operate to prevent them from leaving their workers high and dry. Sinn Féin will be supporting this motion. It is outrageous that we are in a situation whereby Members of this House are left with no alternative but to table such a motion because those who could change the system choose not to do so, namely, Members on the Government benches.

I congratulate Deputy Joan Collins and the Independent Group for tabling this motion. Quite a number of motions have been put before this House on workers' rights. Unfortunately, and I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, it is a common theme of the debates on these motions that a senior Minister is not in attendance. The Minister of State may consider that to be a political jibe and an unfair political criticism but it is the truth. The last time we discussed a motion of this nature a number of months ago the very same comments were made and it was reported upon. Whether it is the Minister with responsibility for social protection, Deputy Humphreys or the Tánaiste and Minister with responsibility for business, their absence gives the sense to those who are deeply affected by these issues, the workers, that they are absent from the thought processes of the Cabinet, as Deputy Barry rightly pointed out. My frustration is that we seem to be going from one industrial dispute to another, dealing with the individual issues that arise in each individual case and not looking at the entirety of the industrial relations architecture of the State which is clearly deficient. Myself and Deputy Ged Nash proposed legislation to deal with this situation but it was dismissed by the Tánaiste as "virtue signalling".

That was a remarkable statement for the Tánaiste to make, when we try to be as constructive as possible and we try not to make personalised political jibes. It is a legislative body and we come here to propose legislation. As noted, Deputy Nash was the one who commissioned the Duffy Cahill report and he is somebody who knows this area intimately. He brought forward legislation, which is the appropriate thing to do, rather than trying to engage in any other type of political activity. However, our reasoned contribution was dismissed as virtue signalling by somebody who has done nothing.

It is also not good enough for the Tánaiste to say the Duffy Cahill report would not deal with the Debenhams situation. We might be willing to argue that over and back if the recommendations of Duffy Cahill had been actually implemented to the letter and then were found to be deficient. However, as has been stated, the Duffy Cahill report has been sitting somewhere in government since March 2016. To give my own party a level of credit, I do not think that would have happened if the Labour Party was still in government and I feel more weight would have been given to the importance of the issue. However, it is stuck on a shelf somewhere, not taken seriously by Government and certainly not taken seriously by the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, who has a history of watering down rhetoric around the rights of workers. He stood on a platform in order to become Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach, saying that essential workers should have restricted access to collective bargaining rights and the right to strike - it is in black and white in his literature. Again, as others have said, it is all very well to applaud these essential workers when they come to the country’s aid at a time of national crisis, but his instinct is that collective bargaining rights and strike rights are secondary to the great national endeavour about which he feels so strongly.

My point to the Minister is that this is about whether people feel the Government and the Legislature have their back or not. Is industrial relations in Ireland about conflict after conflict, or is it about having protections from within this body? I am glad I do not play golf and recent experiences have taught me I should never take up golf. Nonetheless, the industrial relations architecture of this State has been described as being like a golf club where somebody can become a member but they cannot play - they can join the golf club but they cannot play golf. In other words, the employer has a veto. Regardless of the efforts of many people in government and outside government who have put down legislation and tried to lobby in this area, we have probably some of the weakest industrial relations and collective bargaining legislation in Europe because the employer has a veto and there is no requirement on an employer to engage with a representative body which represents workers.

This is an economy in which, before Covid, 23% of workers were statistically on low pay, one of the highest rates of low-paid employment in the OECD, and some 40% of young people under 30 were in insecure work. These things happen only in economies which have weak industrial relations legislation and weak collective bargaining legislation.

What has happened before when a piece of legislation was brought to the Seanad or the Dáil is that the Attorney General has facilitated the Government by saying it is anti-constitutional. What we in the Labour Party would say is that it may be time to challenge that and to strengthen our Constitution by means of a constitutional amendment to enshrine workers’ rights in the Constitution. Therefore, no longer would we have the fallback position from Government that says, “We would love to help you and we really care deeply about this case or that case, but the Attorney General says it is unconstitutional, so what can we do?” If we can take on some of the thorniest, most difficult and divisive issues in Irish society, bring them to the people and have them resolved by means of a referendum, then why can we not do it for workers’ rights? If it means we have to require an employer to engage with the representative body of the workers, let us do it, because then we will not have an economy which is underpinned by low pay. I am quite sure it is an insult to people's sense of morality or decency, no matter what their background, where they live or what their income bracket is, that this economy has been propped up by low-paid work. This affects 23% of workers and, as was said earlier by Deputy Connolly, these are disproportionately women, migrant workers and young people.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, to tell the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, to stop with the jibes, to engage with the responsibility he has, to implement the Duffy Cahill report and to maybe investigate the entire infrastructure through which we are operating. What is he so afraid of and what is the Government so afraid of? We need to even up the imbalance. If it takes a constitutional referendum, I am sure Deputies around this House and the people of Ireland would support such a referendum. It may take 18 months or two years, but I believe if we had that, we would not have this situation with the Debenhams workers, who have been courageously fighting for so long and inspiring so many people across the country with their battle, and we would not have poverty pay, insecure work and the level of unemployment that has been caused by Covid, which is directly connected with the way our economy has been constructed.

I thank Deputy Joan Collins and the Independent group for bringing forward this very appropriate and apt motion. The motion is five paragraphs long and within those five paragraphs is a very clear roadmap for how we can make better the lives of workers throughout this country who are experiencing an anxiety that is being accelerated by the fact there does not seem to be a sense the Government has their back. Both Ministers have been present during this debate. This is the fourth time in the past few months we have got together and somebody from the Opposition has brought forward a motion in regard to workers’ rights, and we have had many of the same conversations we are having today. This is the fourth motion since June. We do not do that to be a nuisance or because we want to get on the Ministers’ nerves. The reason there have been four motions since June, three of which pertained specifically to Debenhams, is that there is a genuine absence in the law of protections for workers. We are trying our best to keep on the record of this House, where we create laws, the fact that people's lives are being impacted detrimentally and that we can, through the mechanisms at our disposal in this House, make them better. I believe we can do that.

I want to acknowledge once again the role played by the workers of Debenhams in the 11 stores across the country who, through their courage and determination, have been incredibly inspiring. They have inspired me, and I am sure they have inspired other workers who may be feeling a sense of insecurity in their own positions, to believe it is imperative that we fight back, that we hold power and vested interests to account and that, through our collaborative efforts, we can make things better.

There is a reason it is essential we make this better. I want to imagine one of our high streets, for example, Henry Street, which I have the pleasure of representing. Some 100 yd up the road from the Debenhams store, which is now lying empty, is Clerys, which is going to be something very different. Within those 100 yd on that street there are probably five or six relatively large high street stores which are at risk of closing down. As they close down, they will vacate our city and the workers, who have been predominantly low paid but, through their efforts have made them relevant, will find themselves in very precarious circumstances.

That is all ahead of us. I have strongly argued that for several years, even in my role as a Dublin city councillor. The trends we are seeing now, such as what we are seeing in high streets and in Debenhams, have been accelerated by Covid-19, but were not necessarily caused by it. Over the past couple of years, Dublin city - I can speak about Dublin city because I know it best - has experienced a loss of commercial footfall. We have seen the M50 shopping centres and shopping centres on motorways taking most of the footfall out of the city. There has been the emergence of online retail shopping, which is again taking people out of our high streets. Stores recognise that. They have used these tactical insolvencies to remove the responsibility of paying redundancy and fulfilling the entitlements they should provide for the workers who created those stores. They are using our current existence under the pandemic to accelerate the arrival of a reality they knew was going to happen. If we do not step in and re-imagine how we can protect their workers and rejuvenate those streets that are not commercially focused, cities throughout the country will lie bare, with the people who built them up left behind. That is essential.

I wish to discuss the Duffy Cahill report which features in the motion. I had to re-read that report today. It is my third reading of it since I was elected in February and probably my fourth since it emerged in 2016. This is a very moderate document. It is quite conservative in its approach. Such is the fear Fine Gael has of it, I was expecting something like Mao's Little Red Book to be in it. It is not. It is quite a conservative document that contains a number of very moderate recommendations. I disagree with the Minister of State that the Duffy Cahill report was commissioned solely on the basis of what happened in Clerys. Clearly, Clerys was the impetus for it, but there had been Vita Cortex, the Paris Bakery and any number of instances before that in which workers were left behind and their statutory rights were not protected by the State. With regard to the Duffy Cahill report, how are we prioritising when a report that is so moderate in its approach has simply not been implemented four years later?

The Minister of State said in his opening statement that we can get together and talk about it. It has been 93 days since this was first brought to the attention of the Dáil. When the Minister of State says that, is it just a way of fobbing us off? Does he have a date in mind, and is it next week or the week after? When can we all get around a table and discuss the implications of that? Anything else is simply fobbing us off and is unacceptable. The five paragraphs presented by the Independent Group are very reasonable. The proposed amendment is a great deal longer, says nothing and is quite insulting. In terms of how we collaborate, there are many instances when the Opposition and Government will disagree. This should not be one of them. Across the Opposition and the Government, be it the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste, everyone was out standing with the workers and talking about how we would like to collaborate to improve their lives, yet this is the third occasion a motion has been brought forward by the Opposition and it is simply being removed with the stroke of a pen. Did anybody even have a conversation with the proponents of the motion? Did anyone sit down and say the Government did not agree with one part but perhaps it could collaborate and implement another aspect of it, or was it just a case of bringing forward the load of ridiculous nonsense here that means nothing?

Let us be truthful here. This amounts to nothing. The language in it is quite dismissive. It says: "the only asset reported to be in consideration is some stock in the stores...". Some stock in the stores amounts to €25 million. It also amounts to the only access to recourse. Debenhams workers are sleeping outside those stores at present to ensure that stock cannot be removed. It is the only access to potential justice they have. That is not "some stock"; it is quite valuable. It is very valuable in terms of the rights the workers have at present, and it is valuable as an asset in terms of what they can be afforded.

These motions will continue to be tabled. What we are discussing, fundamentally, is the role and protections of employed workers in this country and the value we place on their trade unions and trade union representatives. It cannot go unsaid again that an agreement was reached with the trade union on four weeks' redundancy and it has just been dismissed. The workers have absolutely nothing, other than to sleep outside the stores. It is incredibly courageous, but they should not have to do it. One of the lamentable sights of this pandemic period is working class women being led into police stations. It is a sickening sight and every Member of this House owes those women an apology. All they are seeking is four weeks' entitlement. They will not have a job after this, despite the fact that they built up the business. At Christmas they would have been working hard to look after people in the store. Seeing them being led into police stations is beyond lamentable.

The fact that we are still saying we cannot do anything, effectively saying "tough luck", is a disservice. It undermines the role of this House in terms of drafting legislation and enacting laws that reflect the type of country in which we want to live. If we really valued those workers, and not just used mealy-mouthed words, we would be sitting around a table discussing the laws we could enact that could improve their lives now. The Duffy Cahill report is definitely a start in that regard.

I will not rehearse the despicable treatment of more than 1,000 Debenhams workers by Debenhams. It has been well rehearsed in the House. I thank the Independent Group for tabling this motion. We also put forward a motion before the summer recess. All agree that what Debenhams has done to its workers is absolutely shocking, but what we must discuss is the unwillingness of the Government to do anything to rectify that injustice. The amendment from the Government is just an insult. It uses technicalities and jargon to hide from its responsibilities.

I will cut a long story short. The reason this and previous Governments did not legislate for the Duffy Cahill report and to close down the loopholes that allow Debenhams to treat workers in this despicable way is that company law is designed in such a way as to make it attractive for companies that wish to behave in this way. It is even linked to the way in which those same companies avoid paying tax. It is all about subsidiaries and hiding assets and profits so they do not have to pay tax and have no obligations to workers. That is how things are set up in this country. This and successive Governments did not want to do anything about it because, effectively, the IDA goes around the world and tells companies they should come to Ireland because they can get away with murder on tax and in how they treat workers. To cut a long story short, that is what is happening.

Then the Government hides behind nonsense. It claims that this is not the same as Clerys. It is not exactly the same, but there is a similar point in that Clerys also tried to hide the asset it had. It had a trading company and a property company. It used the same technique as Debenhams is using now, by taking over bits of the assets of the company and giving them to other businesses even though the real activity is here. The Government says it only has small bits of assets, or whatever the phrase is. There are assets of approximately €25 million, for a start. That is not small. It would cost approximately €10 million to give the workers the two plus two they deserve. Then one can go after the €25 million in assets. It is not true that nothing can be done. The liquidator offered them an insulting €1 million, but the fact that the liquidator could offer them €1 million proves that it can do it. If it can offer them €1 million, it can offer them €10 million against the assets. Let us not forget that in 2018 the online trading company, all from business done here, made approximately €30 million and the estimated figure at present is approximately €40 million.

There are plenty of assets if the Government is willing to do something about the accounting tricks these companies operate to hide their assets and then dump workers on the scrap heap. The Revenue Commissioners could do that. Let us also not forget an important point made by the workers. They have paid multiples of the €10 million they are seeking for justice in tax to the Revenue Commissioners over the ten, 20 or 30 years they have been working. They deserve some support from the Government now. It should step in, give them the two plus two and then chase the assets of Debenhams which we know exist.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Mandate trade union recently made a proposal to the Government.

It was a proposal which had the potential to resolve the five-month long Debenhams dispute. The gist of it was one, increasing employer social insurance contributions and two, making a pool of money available to the State from which enhanced redundancy agreements could be honoured in cases of liquidation. It was suggested that were this to be agreed in principle, an advance payment of €10 million could be made from such a fund to meet the Debenhams workers' demand of two plus two, that is, four weeks per year of service. Yesterday afternoon in the Dáil, the Taoiseach himself poured cold water all over that proposal to resolve the Debenhams dispute. Today, the Minister of State has in effect done the same thing by putting down an amendment which tears the guts out of Deputy Joan Collins's motion. It states: "retrospective application of future legislation is highly problematic", thus pouring cold water over the proposal. Insult has been added to injury by neither of the senior Ministers involved coming into the House to debate this issue. Two conclusions arise from this. First, the Government is part of the problem here and is an obstacle to achieving a just settlement. Second, the workers now have no option but to escalate. I am confident that they will act appropriately and I strongly appeal to both the Mandate trade union and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, to respond to the Government's double rebuff by taking the gloves off and putting in place strong action in support of the Debenhams workers' struggle.

I listened to the Tánaiste talking about Debenhams workers on RTÉ Radio the other day. During the interview he basically acted as an attorney or lobbyist for Debenhams and made excuses for it. In particular, he said that the situation is not like that of Clerys because there are no assets, which outraged the workers and ignores the €25 million in stock in its Irish shops. He also spoke about it in the context of Britain and Ireland and ignored the close to €100 million in bank accounts in the UK. I thought to myself that this encapsulates the difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael because every time the Taoiseach is asked about this, he uses a particular form of words. He says the workers have been very shoddily and badly treated. He expresses his sympathy with the workers and says it is terrible what Debenhams has done. The Tánaiste, on the other hand, expresses no sympathy for the workers and advocates for Debenhams. That is as much as the difference is because the bottom line is that neither of them does anything to support the workers or force Debenhams to pay up. That is encapsulated in the Government's amendment. It has the same line dismissing the existence of assets of Debenhams and now the Government is walking away. The impression the Taoiseach has given over the past number of months is that this would not be happening if we had only implemented the Duffy Cahill report, but unfortunately it has not been implemented, he says we cannot do it retrospectively and there is nothing we can do. However, the Government's amendment does not even commit to implementing the Duffy Cahill report. The reality is that the Government is saying there is nothing we can do for these workers. The workers should not be disheartened by that. I am sure they are not. They have seen this time and again, but they know their actions are telling. That is why an offer was made a number of weeks ago, completely inadequate as it was. They should keep up the action, the strike and the protests. Concessions can be won.

I thank the Independent Group for bringing this motion before the House. The issue of protecting workers' rights in the event of a business folding has taken on a whole new urgency in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Huge losses have been suffered by Ireland's SME sector over the past six months or so, running into billions of euro. Many small businesses have already been forced to close. Genuine fears have been expressed that some of the big retail chains, large employers with headquarters in other countries, may use the cover of the pandemic to up sticks and leave Ireland. If they see the likes of Debenhams getting away with not living up to its commitments and responsibilities, there is every chance that they will try to take the same path.

The Duffy Cahill report, which was completed in March 2016, proposed a series of protections for Irish workers made redundant through insolvency. It aimed to avoid a repeat of the situation faced by the staff of Clerys in Dublin, who were left high and dry after that company collapsed, leaving the State to pick up the pieces. Around the same time, Debenhams agreed, following negotiations with staff representatives, to a deal promising four weeks' pay per year of service to any staff made redundant. Yet, four years later that deal has been thrown out the window and the dust is still gathering on the Duffy Cahill report with none of its many recommendations brought into law.

To say the 1,000 or so Irish Debenhams workers have been badly treated is an understatement. The offer of an average payment of €1,000 per worker on top of their legal minimum entitlement of two weeks' pay per year of service was by any yardstick an insult to the workers. The payment of the equivalent of an extra one day of pay per year of service was never going to be acceptable to staff who only four years ago agreed in good faith to a redundancy deal promising them four weeks' pay per year worked. That offer only served to inflame passions further and widen the great gap that exists between the two sides. After withdrawing that paltry offer, the liquidators, KPMG, further rubbed salt in the wound by announcing that no further settlement agreements would be negotiated by it with the employees.

The staff picketing outside the Debenhams store in Galway and others around the country are not asking for anything extraordinary, just the entitlement they were promised. I compliment the staff in Debenhams in Galway who are protesting outside and peacefully in all sorts of weather. The Taoiseach himself has described the treatment of Debenhams staff as "shabby and shoddy and unacceptable". Words alone will not improve their lot or the situation potentially facing thousands more employees of large retail chains in the months ahead. We need the protections suggested by the Duffy Cahill report to be put in place as a matter of urgency to ensure that if workers lose their jobs, they can at least be guaranteed a fair settlement after many years of loyal and dedicated service.

While I support this motion, I am concerned that the establishment of a ring-fenced insolvency fund might result in employers being asked to foot the bill for it. Too many small and medium-sized businesses are on their knees right now, desperately struggling to stay afloat. Between them they lost up to €10 billion from March to June alone, according to a study by the ESRI. The effects of the pandemic are likely to hit my home city of Galway more than any other major urban area in the country according to a report from the Northern and Western Regional Assembly. That report found that more than 46% of Galway's commercial businesses were operating in the sector set to feel the greatest economic impact of the pandemic, which is a higher proportion than in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Waterford. The last thing those businesses need is a further levy on top of everything else that could tip them over the edge of survival.

A new levy imposed on employers' PRSI would result in the opposite of what this proposal hopes to achieve. It could be the last straw that could send a business to the wall, resulting in job losses and further hardship for the very people this motion aims to assist. I am fully supportive of the call to legislate for the implementation of the Duffy Cahill report recommendations and I call on the Government to act on this as a matter of urgency.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak and thank the Independent Group for organising this motion relating to Debenhams workers. As has been pointed out, Debenhams has assets in other places and it was supported very well in Tralee by the people who used to buy its wares. The people of Tralee did not let the Debenhams workers down.

Likewise, the people in Dublin did not let Debenhams down. They are, however, being let down by this very wealthy company. Seeing as the company is not for caving in, the Government should take some action to ensure the workers will get fair compensation. What has been offered is only paltry and it is not acceptable or fair. Having seen the workers out on the picket line day after day, we know the horrible way in which they have been treated.

I thank the Independent Group for bringing forward this very important motion and giving us in Dáil Éireann the opportunity to support the Debenhams workers, which I and the rest of our group will gladly do.

I thank most sincerely Deputy Joan Collins and the Independent Group for bringing this motion before the House. It is only right and just, after the enormous campaign that these workers have put in, that it is rightfully acknowledged in the House and I appreciate that.

I wish to relay one story to Deputy Collins and everybody else about the other night in Tralee and I know that she will appreciate this very much. As we know, these days thankfully are not too bad but the nights can be pretty cold. At 12.30 a.m. or perhaps 12.45 a.m. last Tuesday, a number of Debenhams workers were maintaining their vigil and protesting through the night. I could not believe it. I stopped to say a few words of support and encouragement and relayed the fact that the motion would be coming before the House, tabled by Deputy Collins's group, which they appreciated. It is only right and proper that we all support it.

I understand if a business or a company goes broke, if there is no money in the kitty, if the whole thing goes wallop, if staff cannot be paid and if the well is just dry, that is a different story. We know, however, there are enormous amounts of valuable stock in those shops and as far as I am concerned those goods that the good workers ensured were not removed is the property of the Debenhams workers. It is the property of the people who served and gave their years of genuine service to that company and have been treated so badly. What I cannot believe is how the company is being so stubborn in spite of the massive swell of support for the workers and why it is doing this. I cannot get my head around that.

I thank Deputy Joan Collins and the rest of the Independent Group for tabling the motion. Former Debenhams workers in Cork are carrying out a 12-hour fast while on a picket line today to raise funds for Marymount hospice in the city. They feel that the people of Cork have been so good to them that it is time they paid them back. Tomorrow will mark 161 days of industrial action taken by Debenhams workers, which brings us in line with the Vita Cortex workers, who ended their action after 161 days. The former Vita Cortex workers say they are fully behind the Debenhams employees as they continue to fight for their entitlements. They have said they support Debenhams workers in their fight for fair treatment. Workers should not have to go to such lengths to secure a just outcome.

We call on the Government to listen to the requests of the Debenhams workers, many of whom I know, given that some of them travel from all the way down in Castletownbere to Debenhams in Cork. The members of the Government who stood with Debenhams workers on the picket line and pledged their support but have disappeared need to come out and support this call and ensure that proper redundancy will finally be given to these workers. This dispute has put tremendous pressure on these workers. It is time for the Government to step up and finally give these workers what they are owed. They are involved in what is now the longest running industrial action the State has ever seen. It is time for the Government to intervene, put an end to this and give the Debenhams workers what they are entitled to. The workers are giving up dozens of hours every week standing outside the stores nationwide to prevent stock from being removed from the site. It is understood that the stock in the various Debenhams stores nationwide is worth in the region of €20 million. The workers believe that the liquidated stock and the cash in the stores should go into the Irish redundancy pot. Instead, 2,000 workers in 11 shops face receiving only the statutory redundancy.

The Debenhams workers are not looking for anything over the top. After their years of hard work, and after what they have given to the community, they are looking for fair play but Debenhams is not playing ball. The workers are protecting assets in this country belonging to Debenhams to try to ensure they will get a fair deal. The Irish have always been known as "the fighting Irish", for fighting for the people of Ireland. It is about time that the whole of Ireland regrouped and fought for the Debenhams workers.

We see people every day trying to live on what they have at the moment while dealing with Covid-19 and then a disgraceful company such as Debenhams has put us to one side and said, "We do not care." We look at social media and at what Debenhams has sent out, saying that if customers have Debenhams vouchers, they can use them online. I ask the people to send a clear message to Debenhams and to the Government that we want Debenhams to be held to account. If an Irish company was doing this, the State would seize its assets and hold it to account. The Government should find a way to hold Debenhams to account and to make it look after its workers. They have paid tax in this country. They have clothed us and looked after the community. Debenhams has nothing but disrespect for Ireland. It is about time that Ireland turned around and said, "We are going to be disrespectful now to you and make you pay", and that it hurt it in the pocket until it looks after our Debenhams workers.

I congratulate the Independent Group for bringing forward the motion, which I fully support. I thank the Debenhams workers for keeping up the fight. We will send a clear message to Debenhams that it will not stand on the Irish because we will stand for it.

I fully support the motion. I pay tribute to Deputy Joan Collins for the work she has done on behalf of the Debenhams workers and for bringing forward the motion. It is vital for all the workers to ensure they will get some compensation when they are made redundant. The implementation of what the motion outlines and the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report would do that, sending out a strong signal that the State respects its citizens. It would be a sea change for a Government in this country to support workers and workers' rights and it would send a signal that the State thinks as much about citizens and workers as it does about companies. That would be significant progress for workers.

For too long we have protected businesses that have no interest in protecting or respecting their staff and, in this case, no interest in respecting the State either as a defender of businesses. It must be a real shock for the Government to realise that. Sadly, it is happy to bend over for companies and businesses. The reality is that businesses and companies do not, in the main, have any interest in citizens or workers. They do not have any interest in the Government either, other than in what it will do for them and that is it. For too long, Governments have argued that companies supply jobs and that, therefore, we should do everything for companies. It is workers, however, who supply the labour and who make companies viable. What we should be doing is looking after workers and companies side by side and then we would see progress and perhaps an economy that works properly on behalf of all our citizens.

I listened earlier to the Minister of State, Deputy English, make the argument on behalf of Debenhams and I was very disappointed. He then went on to make the case for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party as well, wringing his hands and saying there is nothing he can do. The Government, through its spokespeople, is offering sympathy to the workers but they deserve better than that. The Debenhams workers, and workers who in the future find themselves in the same situation that the Debenhams workers are in now, are being let down by the delay in implementing the Duffy Cahill report. There is a possibility that if the Government acted and implemented the report now, the workers could apply under Duffy Cahill for payment of the redundancy that the company agreed to in the past. That is what this motions calls for.

Every day the Government delays makes it more difficult for the workers to have their rights vindicated. The Minister said that the Government will review the Duffy Cahill report to see what can be done, but the Government response to the motion states it has already done that and ruled it out. Which is it? The Government has ruled it out on the basis of the Company Law Review Group review, although it is not possible to access its consideration of the report on its website.

The Duffy Cahill report was commissioned by two Ministers in the previous Government, which is basically the same Government we have now. If that report had been acted on, the situation that has arisen for the Debenhams workers would not have arisen. If the conditions of it had not applied then, so be it, but we cannot know that. The only thing we can say, sadly, is that it has not been implemented. This State does not care about workers. The Government will do what it can for companies but not for workers. There is nothing radical in what is being called for in this motion. It has been already done in a number of European countries such as Germany, which is hardly a bastion of socialist principles, but it does acknowledge that business needs survive better when workers are respected and treated fairly. That is all that is called for in this motion. The Debenhams workers on the picket line, the former Clerys workers and so on are only asking that they be treated fairly and with respect. The least citizens of this country could expect is that the Government would think about them as well and act on their behalf.

The Government says it cannot intervene in the law, which is fair enough, but it can implement the Duffy Cahill report. It can stop being hypocritical in terms of the manner in which it is dealing with this issue. Earlier, the Minister said that a review can be done, but the Government response to the motion says that has been already ruled out. The least Government could do is treat people with respect. People need clarity and a response in terms of a review. I call on the Government to give them a review and we can see where we go from there. I do not think it is too much to ask for anybody to be treated fairly. It is time that the State and the Government acted on behalf of Irish citizens. The Government will vote against this motion next week and its amended version of the motion will be on the record of the Dáil for all to see. It will show that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party care more about companies than citizens. That is all it will show. It will be a sorry memento of this Government on the record of the Dáil.

I have listened carefully for the past hour or so to the concerns expressed by Deputies. I share their frustrations on behalf of the Debenhams workers and all those facing job losses at this time. It is clear that any proposal to progress requires careful consideration involving further consultation with many stakeholders on the recommendations in the Duffy Cahill report.

I would note that the Companies Act 2014 already provides for a court power to order the return of assets improperly transferred in appropriate cases. That provision already exists on the Statute Book. The Duffy Cahill report refers to an entirely different situation from that faced by Debenhams workers today. The matter at hand is a court-supervised liquidation of a failed company with, as far as any of us know, no other significant assets to dispose of apart from certain stock, the value of which is still under dispute, and a range of creditors who also have legitimate claims upon it.

The intention of this Government, as set out in the programme for Government commitments regarding employee protections, is to review whether the current legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers; review the companies Acts with a view to addressing the practice of trading entities splitting their operations between trading and property, with the result being the trading business, including the jobs, go into insolvency and the assets are taken out of the original business; and to examine the legal provision that pertains to any sale to a connected party following the insolvency of a company, including who can object and the allowable grounds of an objection. This is what we will do in terms of future legislation. The Duffy Cahill report is part of that work but not the whole of it. As Minister of State with responsibility for company law, I do not want to wait any longer for this work to be conducted.

I note specifically the Deputies' motion to "examine the need for a ring-fenced insolvency fund, such as exists in several European Union states, to allow for all payments due to workers laid off by an insolvent company, which could be financed by a levy on employers Pay Related Social Insurance". This is an interesting proposal and the Government considers it worthy of detailed and serious consideration. A similar proposal was made recently by ICTU to the Minister of State, Deputy English. I look forward to Government considering the proposal with the input of ICTU and that of other informed parties. This debate, too, will feed into it. It has to be acknowledged that the proposal will have some obvious challenges which would necessitate wider consideration not only across Government but among stakeholders such as employers who would be asked to pay into the fund. We would be asking employers to pay into this fund at a serious and challenging time in the context of Covid and Brexit. Business failure does not help businesses and it certainly does not help employees.

As I understand it, the proposal is essentially that a levy on private sector employers would be established, with contribution rates in the order of 0.35% to 0.66% of wages, which would be used in situations such as this where an employer defaults on a collective agreement due to insolvency. Such a levy would potentially alleviate the extreme pressure being imposed on the Social Insurance Fund and might offer a tailored solution to this particular scenario should it happen again in the future. Currently, the only non-social insurance fund charge collected with employer social insurance is the 1% National Training Fund levy which is returned under the PAYE system to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and is subsequently transferred to the National Training Fund administered by the Department of Education and Skills. I am engaging with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, on how to progress consideration of the proposal, on revisiting the Duffy Cahill report, and on establishing the best way to do so in consultation with stakeholders. Engagement is key.

I met the Debenhams workers with the Tánaiste and I also met them with my party colleague, Deputy McAuliffe. I have also engaged with Deputy Lahart on this matter. Together with the Minister of State, Deputy English, I will finalise a multi-stakeholder forum to ensure appropriate recommendations are carried forward and put on a statutory footing. This will necessitate the engagement of all stakeholders, including union representatives. In my negotiations and discussions with some of the unions, I informed of this. The Duffy Cahill report will be foundational in this regard and will be utilised to realise the commitments made in the programme for Government without further delay.

I again extend my sympathies to the employees of Debenhams Ireland who have lost their jobs and I acknowledge the distress and worry that this is causing for them and their families. The workers will receive their statutory entitlements. However, additional payments can only be secured through negotiations between the unions and the liquidators consulting in good faith with one another. I have heard from many Deputies on the Opposition benches of the need and right of employees to have access to union representation, and rightly so. These workers do have access to union representation. The union has entered into consultation on behalf of the workers.

We continue to encourage this and we hope for a successful outcome. However, we cannot dictate that outcome and neither should anybody on the other side of the House. It should be left to the unions representing the workers. There are other avenues that may be used by unions and workers. The Workplace Relations Commission stands ready and available should the unions representing the workers wish to use that arm of the State.

The Deputies are seeking an immediate emergency legislative solution that would apply to these cases retrospectively in a special way, over and above many other workers who have been made redundant. This approach is on shaky legal and policy grounds. Retrospective action brings obvious legal concerns and I also question the wisdom of setting one class of worker over another.

The reality of the Government's position is there is no statutory role or power for it to intervene in the distribution of assets currently under a court-supervised liquidation, and to suggest otherwise would be misleading. The Government does not have the luxuries enjoyed by Members in the Opposition, who can make promises knowing they will not have to deliver on them. The Government must operate within the confines of existing law.

The Government's role in respect of the Debenhams workers is to ensure redundancy payments are made from the Social Insurance Fund and the workers are supported with jobseeker supports, including retraining, with in-depth consideration given to company law and employment rights law issues set out in the programme for Government.

As I have said, the Minister of State, Deputy English, and I will continue to pursue the relevant programme for Government commitments and revisit the Duffy Cahill report, assessing which elements could help to address the shortfall that arose with Clerys. We will consider the proposal for a levy and engage with the stakeholders on this. As I have said, we are finalising a multi-stakeholder forum and it is my intention for this to commence within weeks and not months. I am determined to ensure we can pursue policies for the protection of workers in the not too distant future.

With all due respect to the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Troy, the fact that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, is not in the Chamber does not just show contempt for the Opposition and the left - we are well used to it at this stage - but also shows contempt for the 1,000 former Debenhams workers. That has not gone unnoticed. He is also showing disrespect for the workers at St. Mary's nursing home on Merrion Road, which is facing possible liquidation by the Sisters of Charity, which is using the argument that if it had to pay redundancy, it would be bankrupt. It is not at that point yet.

These people are watching to see exactly what other companies have done. We know what happened in the past with companies like HMV, La Senza, Connolly Shoes, Game, Paris Bakery and Pastry Limited, TalkTalk, Clerys and now Debenhams and St. Mary's nursing home. We know there will be future cases as well. As has been said, there are 69,500 companies using the emergency wage schemes and they will be affected very badly when those schemes are cut.

Fianna Fáil is at 10% in the polls and would normally have its finger on the pulse with such matters, as the Debenhams workers enjoy huge support from the people in this country. The public support is absolutely massive. The party would normally have its finger on the pulse but clearly it does not.

The programme for Government was published 93 days ago but I will read instead from the terms of reference of the Duffy Cahill report. It states:

Hence, the focus of the examination is on how the legitimate interests of employees could more effectively be safeguarded in situations in which collective redundancies arise from the liquidation of an employer following corporate restructuring in which assets that might otherwise have been available to protect those interests are transferred to a related person.

The mealy amendment states:

further notes that the Government is committed to, and is determined to, deliver on a number of actions in the programme for Government, including to:

- review whether the legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers;

This was done four years ago with the Duffy Cahill report. The programme for Government came out 93 days ago and we still have nothing to protect the workers facing technical insolvencies. The Government should be ashamed of itself when it states it will review what has already been reviewed in the Duffy Cahill report and which has been rejected. The Government also intends to review the companies legislation, indicating in the amendment that the Company Law Review Group, CLRG, did not include the implementation of the Duffy Cahill report in its recommendations. It did not do it because it was not in the group's terms of reference to look at it.

The doublespeak of the Government is horrendous. There are workers on the picket line whose lives have been disrupted for over 160 days because the law allows companies to technically make their companies insolvent while taking any moneys away on which the workers could call. It is absolutely reprehensible behaviour. The Minister of State mentions a review of the Duffy Cahill report but it has been there for four years. The Government should really be ashamed of itself.

The Debenhams national shop stewards' committee has unanimously endorsed a Mandate-ICTU campaign to secure urgent legislation relating to the Duffy Cahill report and the suggestion in our motion for ring-fencing an insolvency fund like the funds that exist in several other European countries. The Debenhams workers have put their names to this campaign. They want the Government to introduce legislation urgently to enact the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report. They want the Government to pay the extra two weeks of redundancy they should get, with Debenhams to be pursued under that legislation.

The Government could ask the liquidator to extend the length of time for the liquidation to allow all the legislation to be enacted. That is what the workers are looking for, along with Mandate and ICTU. That is what they have said to the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Troy, as well as the senior Minister, Deputy Varadkar. They want to walk away from the picket lines. They do not want to be there at Christmas. I spoke to the shop steward on Henry Street earlier and she said if the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report had been implemented, these people would not be contemplating having their Christmas dinner on the picket line. That is how strongly they feel about this. They are not going to walk away from the picket line or the assets in those shops. These people know these assets could potentially be pursued by the Government so they could be paid.

I read the CLRG report and it is over 120 pages. It considered issues covered by the Duffy Cahill report relating to company law. Deputy Connolly raised relevant sections of the Companies Act 2014, including sections 599 and 608. The Government had the audacity to state in its amendment that "The CLRG did not include the implementation of the Duffy-Cahill Report in its recommendations". There was not one mention of the Duffy Cahill report in that publication from the CLRG because it was not asked to consider it. It dealt specifically with companies law and there were no new recommendations, despite ICTU disagreeing. There was no recommendation to change the law as it said companies legislation could be affected, with costs being key.

This is not about Deputy Joan Collins passing a Private Members' motion. Workers wanted this issue brought into the Dáil for discussion, debate and a response from the Government. They want this legislation. They want their jobs and conditions and the contracts they have signed with companies in good faith to be protected. These companies can easily afford to pay their wages.

As I said earlier, I was hoping that the Tánaiste could appear and provide assurances that the Government is seriously looking at how to speed things up, in full awareness that these workers could be left with only the statutory payment of two weeks per year. I hoped to hear about the Government's desire to secure these workers' holiday pay and everything to which they are entitled. I hoped to hear that the Government was looking at the Duffy Cahill report and how to implement it immediately and would get its officials to prepare the necessary legislation in the next two weeks.

The point has been made. We brought massive legislation through this Dáil overnight to bail out the banks. We sat here until 5 a.m. to pass that legislation. In contrast, some 93 days have passed since the programme for Government was adopted and for 160 days these workers have been on the picket line, fighting for their rights.

I ask the Minister to go back to his own party. Yesterday I heard one of its members on radio saying he was saddened that Fianna Fáil seems to be losing contact with its roots. He said it is an older party that is not recruiting young people. Why would they join when Fianna Fáil does not represent them by enforcing their contracts? I appeal to the Government to take this more seriously and to implement the changes the workers, Mandate and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is asking for.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 17 September 2020.

Sitting suspended at 6.15 p.m. and resumed at 6.35 p.m.