Redundancy Payments (Lay-off, Short Time and Calculation of Reckonable Service) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 in respect of periods of lay-off and short time and the calculation of reckonable service and to provide for related matters.

I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce the Bill. Many Deputies in this House and anybody who pays attention to what goes on at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment will have heard me talk about the issues that are contained in the Bill. Since the onset of the Covid crisis several issues have arisen for workers who have been laid off or are on short time, such as those in receipt of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. Some workers are unsure whether they can undertake new employment and still be entitled to receive a redundancy payment when the emergency period eventually ends. Others have outlined how their employers have tried to make them declare themselves as having resigned and thereby involuntarily forgo their redundancy payment. We are hearing of increasing cases of that happening which is deeply troubling.

Many are concerned that they have lost up to a year of reckonable service for the calculation of any future redundancy payments due to the time spent on PUP. Thankfully, with the help of the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers and the Bills Office, I have managed to combine solutions to these matters into the Redundancy Payments (Lay-off, Short Time and Calculation of Reckonable Service) Bill. I admit that title does not exactly trip off the tongue, but it is a very important Bill which does a very important job.

In the main, the Bill seeks to deliver a fair calculation of reckonable service for workers on the PUP who may lose significant sums of money in future redundancy payment due to a loophole in the law. I will further examine this point shortly.

The Bill also seeks to insert a declaratory provision to remove any doubt that where, during a period of lay-off or short time, a worker takes up employment with another employer, that worker will not lose their entitlement to their redundancy payment. This provision will offer clarity and assurance for many workers who have been offered new employment but are afraid to take it up in case they lose their redundancy entitlements.

The Bill also seeks to make it an offence for an employer to treat an employee as having resigned and thereby forgo their redundancy entitlement. While this is anecdotal evidence, it is important, nonetheless. We have heard of cases of people saying that their employer is just assuming that they will not be coming back and assuming that they will forgo their right to any redundancy. That needs to be tightened up. The situation has been raised with me by workers, specifically those working in sectors that tend not to be highly unionised. I take this opportunity to say that the very best protection workers can get in any workplace is to join their trade union and be active in their trade union. This is not an issue that is exclusive to areas where trade union density is low, but it seems to be a particular issue in that area.

Workers have outlined how unscrupulous employers have tried to con them into making themselves redundant unbeknownst to them and against their wishes. This would have had the result of these workers losing their redundancy entitlement. In the main, the Bill seeks to ensure that time spent by workers on lay-off and working short time, such as those in receipt of the PUP, is calculated as reckonable service for the calculation of redundancy entitlement. I am conscious that the legislation that was introduced was intended to be temporary, but it has now been in place for a long time. There is an added complication for those workers and it behoves us to deal with that issue.

As it currently stands, due to a loophole in the law, workers could lose out on significant sums of money because the time spent on the PUP is not counted towards their entitlement. The Bill seeks to make that time reckonable for service and contribute to a fair redundancy entitlement if future circumstances deem that workers need to access redundancy.

The time that workers have spent not in work is not their fault, given that their workplace was closed for reasons of public health. Viable businesses were shut down. They hope to go back to their workplaces but they want to go back with their entitlement to redundancy intact and in the sure and certain knowledge that they will not have a break in service which would, obviously, contribute to the reduction of their entitlement.

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.