Companies (Protection of Employees’ Rights in Liquidations) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduced a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Companies Act 2014 to provide for preferential creditor status to employees in collective redundancy situations; to provide for recognition of redundancy payments in a winding up; and to provide for related matters.

In the interests of full disclosure, this Bill was inspired by the actions of one group of people and by the inaction of another. Those whose actions have inspired this Bill are the Debenhams workers in Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Tralee and Newbridge. They have fought a heroic campaign for more than 12 months to win a just redundancy settlement. They have spoken out, campaigned, picketed and occupied their former workplaces, all with a view to winning the four weeks' redundancy per year of service that had been promised to them by their previous employers. Although it is clear they have justice on their side, the law has been against them all along, which brings us to the second group of people.

The group whose inaction has not so much inspired the Bill but rather forced me to bring forward this legislation comprises the conservative parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. These have led successive Governments down the years that have refused to act on this issue. They did not change the law after the Vita Cortex dispute. Following the Clerys dispute, they promised that the Clerys workers would be the last to suffer this situation. That has not turned out to be the case. One year after the beginning of the Debenhams dispute, they still have not taken action. The Arcadia workers are now suffering as a result of that inaction. If they will not act on the issue, we will.

This Bill seeks to change the law in two regards. First, it seeks to put workers at the head of the queue when it comes to payouts from a liquidation pot. Second, it seeks to make an unpaid collective redundancy agreement a recognised debt in the eyes of the law, a debt which must be taken into account in the liquidation process. These two small changes could make a big difference to working people.

There is a jobs massacre on the way. Just before we came in here today, we heard about 486 jobs being lost in Carphone Warehouse. I am not sure if this involves a liquidation but it still underlines my point. My hope is that working people will push back against this jobs massacre, first and foremost by fighting to defend jobs. Where workers decide instead to fight for decent redundancy terms, however, we want the law of the land to be a help and not a hindrance. It is precisely with this in mind that this Bill was drafted.

I understand that this legislation may not be the only legislation to come before this Dáil with the aim of improving workers' rights in a liquidation. For instance, I understand that Sinn Féin may be considering tabling a Bill of its own. Let me be clear: I am not at all precious about this legislation. If other Bills are put forward which would improve workers' rights, we will support those Bills. Equally, we expect the authors of any such Bills to support this legislation.

When I put this legislation before the Dáil on Second Stage, the eyes of many workers, and not only those of Debenhams workers and their families, will be on the vote of each and every Deputy. I sincerely hope that a majority will back this legislation and make it law. However, should the Government parties choose not to support it, I hope and expect that the issue will not go away and will become an issue in the next general election.

Following First Stage, it is my intention to bring this legislation to the Debenhams workers and their families, to the Arcadia workers and their families, to workers everywhere and to the trade union movement. I want to build a campaign in support of the proposals in this Bill and to put enough work into that campaign that it ceases to be my Bill and becomes instead the Bill of the Debenhams workers, the people who inspired its drafting, and the Bill of working people generally.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.