I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I will be sharing time with Deputies Gino Kenny and Boyd Barrett.
The only thing that will ever change the situation for workers in a liquidation is changing the statutory priorities so that workers are moved up the chain. That is according to Mr. Kieran Wallace of KPMG in an interview with the Business Post on Sunday, 2 May. Today, Deputies will have the opportunity to take a big step towards doing precisely that and moving workers up the chain. The Bill seeks to change the law in two respects: by placing workers at the front of the queue when it comes to making payouts from a liquidator's pot, as is the case in Greece, France and Portugal; and by making unpaid collective agreements, for example, an unpaid collective redundancy agreement, into a debt in the eyes of the liquidation laws.
It is interesting that the Government has decided not to oppose the Bill. The Debenhams strike has drawn public attention once again to the issues at stake and I suspect the Government senses that public opinion favours change. It knows which way the wind is blowing. However, the Government is also proposing that a Second Reading of the Bill be deferred for 12 months, meaning that it would not be allowed to progress to the next Stage until May 2022. That is unacceptable to me as the Bill's mover and to my Solidarity-People Before Profit colleagues.
A retail jobs massacre is under way. On Dublin's Henry Street, 30% of stores are vacant. A similar situation obtains in shopping centres throughout the country. Another large wave of closures and redundancies will arrive in the autumn, as the Tánaiste pointed out in his "Morning Ireland" interview at the start of the week. As a result, there is an urgent need to put in place protections for these workers in advance of the withdrawal of State supports for business. To be clear, I am in favour of saving jobs and of campaigning to save jobs, but where saving them is not possible, full protections must be in place in terms of a decent redundancy package for working people.
The Government sees the urgent need to change the examinership laws for business. It was all over the media about that issue yesterday. As such, why does it not see the urgent need to change the liquidation laws for workers? A clear double standard seems to be at play. It is not as though Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are being confronted by a new issue and need some time to do some head scratching on it. The Vita Cortex sit-in presented these matters to the parties now in government nearly ten years ago. The Clerys scandal is six years old. Five years ago, Ms Nessa Cahill and Mr. Kevin Duffy presented Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael with a report that the then Government had commissioned. Five years on, the Government has failed to implement their recommendations. As such, let us call the proposal to defer for a year by its correct name - time wasting. Now is not the time for time wasting. Now is the time for action and I urge the Dáil to vote against the Government's amendment.
This legislation has been nicknamed the Debenhams Bill.
The source of its inspiration is the struggle of the Debenhams workers, overwhelmingly women, which will be 400 days old this Friday. I have been asked if the Debenhams workers can benefit directly from the passage of this Bill. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is "No". Retrospective legislation is not possible. However, if one talks to any of the Debenhams workers, one will be told that they would be proud if the legacy of their dispute was to be improved rights for all working people in liquidation situations, for the next group of workers to whom this will happen and for the next generation. What a generosity of spirit is shown in that attitude. It is a generosity of spirit that should be recognised by this Dáil by way of the passage of this legislation tonight without any deferral or delay.
On Tuesday morning at 4 a.m., 40 gardaí, some of them from the Garda public order unit, backed up by police vans physically removed Debenhams workers from the picket line in Waterford to pave the way for scab trucks removing disputed stock. There were more gardaí there than strikers. Similar events happened in recent weeks in Blanchardstown in Dublin, Henry Street, Dublin and Tralee, Kerry. Why such an overwhelming show of force to remove stock that the State says is of little value? It is because the State wants to defeat the Debenhams workers for fear that their example will encourage others, but their example will encourage others. It will encourage the workers who will be made redundant in the autumn when their companies go into liquidation.
The Dáil can support the passage of Second Stage of this legislation tonight and urgently and speedily progress it through Committee and Remaining Stages or it can postpone its progress for 12 months and let new Debenhams-like struggles flare up and the demand for change double and treble from the streets and the picket lines. Either way, Dáil Éireann should be clear that this issue is not going to go away.