I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 8, 15, 31 and 45 together.
The number of cases that have arisen in recent times of companies becoming insolvent and not engaging in timely and adequate dialogue with their employees is regrettable. I fully understand the pressures companies are under, but this should not be an excuse for treating employees shabbily.
There are various legislative protections in place in both my Department and the Department of Social Protection to protect employees in situations such as those that have arisen in recent weeks. The arrangements in place offer comprehensive protections, but as recent events have clearly indicated, they require the willingness of all parties to ensure legal obligations are discharged. The Protection of Employment Act 1977, as amended, makes it mandatory for employers proposing a collective redundancy to engage in an information and consultation process with employees' representatives and provide certain information on the proposed redundancies. An employer is prohibited from issuing any notice of redundancy during the mandatory employee information and consultation period.
The Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973 to 2001 make it mandatory for employers to provide a minimum period of notice in advance of any dismissal for employees with at least 13 weeks service. The notice period ranges in scale from one week to eight weeks, depending on the number of years of service. The Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 provides that most employees are entitled to four weeks annual holidays for each leave year withpro rata entitlements for periods of employment of less than one year.
The redundancy payment legislation, administered by the Department of Social Protection, obliges employers to pay a statutory redundancy lump sum to eligible employees. Where an employer is unable or unwilling to pay, the Department of Social Protection has provision to make a payment from the social insurance fund. The insolvency funds also provide for claims that follow the failure of an employer, for reasons of insolvency, to make payments to employees that are properly due. These include payments in respect of such categories as arrears of wages due, holiday pay entitlement, pension contributions, etc.
Where workers believe their rights under legislation have not been respected by their employer, they have a right to pursue their complaint before the Rights Commissioners or the Employment Appeals Tribunal, as appropriate. Where disputes arise between workers and employers, the Labour Relations Commission can assist with dispute resolution services. The LRC has a very strong record of brokering solutions in many cases. However, not all situations are amenable to being resolved through conciliation. We must remember that the system of industrial relations in Ireland is essentially voluntary in nature and responsibility for the resolution of industrial disputes between employers and workers, whether in redundancy or other collective disputes, rests with the employer, the workers and their representatives. Recent developments have given us all cause for concern and my Department is monitoring developments in close consultation with the LRC.