Given that it is now five minutes past midnight, I thank the Minister for Defence for remaining in the House to take this matter. The hour is late and I appreciate the fact that the Minister is present.
This matter relates specifically to the fact that employers have temporarily laid off staff and deliberately decided not to make them redundant in order to avoid paying them the money they have rightfully earned in respect of the period of notice. I thought this was a one-off when a constituent contacted me about the matter. However, I have subsequently been approached by others on the same issue.
As everyone is aware, redundancy occurs when there is a lack of work in a firm or a downturn due to financial circumstances. As an alternative to redundancy, employers may lay off employees or place them on short-time working for a number of weeks. Under the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2007, there is a lay-off of workers where an employer is unable to provide work but where he or she believes this to be temporary and gives notification of the lay-off before work finishes.
When I studied law in UCD, employment law was one of the key subjects taught. It is because of this that I have a keen interest and specific knowledge of this area. If there is a lay-off of workers or they are placed on short-time working and this continues for four weeks or more, or for six out of 13 weeks, one may give one's employer notice in writing of one's intention to claim redundancy under the Acts to which I refer. However, one must do this no later than four weeks after the period of the lay-off or short-time working has ended. People will obtain their redundancy payments in taking this course of action, but they will not will not obtain what they have earned. In simple terms, they will lose their right to notice from their employer under the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973 to 2001.
As the Minister is aware, it is the employer who decides initially whether there is redundancy. I am sure he will inform me that if there is a dispute in this regard, the matter should be referred to the Employment Appeals Tribunal which can also be consulted on a raft of employment issues. However, the specific matter to which I refer is not being dealt with and people are left hanging for weeks or months. Two of the people by whom I was contacted had alternative job offers but could not take them up. One of the individuals informed me that he was afraid to do so because of the thought that his former employer would state after a number of weeks that his short-term lay-off period was over and that his services were again required. As a result, the people concerned are not in a position to take up new employment, while obtaining what is due to them from their previous employment.
I hope serious consideration will be given to this matter. The Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs is examining the position on redundancy and I hope he will give consideration to the specific aspect to which I refer. I look forward to the Minister's reply.