Workers’ Rights: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Joan Collins on Wednesday, 16 September 2020:
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.
Debate resumed on 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
- (Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Damien English)

I must now deal with a postponed division relating to amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to the motion on workers' rights. On Wednesday, 16 September 2020 on the question, "That the amendment be made", a division was claimed and that division must now be taken.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 21; Staon, 0.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 21; Staon, 0.

  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.

Níl

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Browne, Martin.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Clarke, Sorca.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Healy-Rae, Danny.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle.
Question declared carried.