Thursday, 8 December 2005
John McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
Having listened to the budget debate and the many billions of euro being spent in each Department, it should be easy enough to sort out my problem. I appeal to the Minister in that context, in the hope of finding a solution. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is very much aware of the issue I bring to the House, the plight of the Comerama workers. As we know, the factory closed on 28 November 2002. On 12 December 2002, public representatives from Kilkenny, the unions, workers and officials of the Department met the Tánaiste who gave an unambiguous commitment that the workers would benefit from the improved statutory redundancy being provided for in legislation that was due to be introduced at that time in the House. The shop steward attending the meeting, Eamon Nolan, based on that commitment concerning the legislation, recommended acceptance of the package before them on the basis that they would benefit from further redundancy. The factory was then wound up.
If the commitment had not been given on that day I have no doubt arrangements could have been put in place to fix a later date for the wind-down of the factory so that the employees could benefit from the legislation due to be introduced and the redundancy which would follow on from that. I accept that a mistake was made at that meeting, in that the proposed legislation could not be applied retrospectively. Given that a shop steward brought the workforce with him and agreed to the closure based on the commitment from the Tánaiste, we have a moral obligation to pay the workforce the €910,000 that would have been due to it. This equates to roughly €10,000 per person.
As the circumstances of the case are unique, it should be possible to ring-fence that payment. It may be possible for the union to agree to the ring-fencing of that payment to the Comerama workforce through the social partnership process so that this money can be paid to the workforce. Correspondence from various Ministers and the Taoiseach's office addressed the many issues relating to the closure of Comerama but none have addressed the suggestions by the workforce through its union representative, Phil Funchion. It is now time to address these issues and to inform the workforce of the Government's intention.
The workers met Ministers, most recently the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. I have made representations on their behalf, as have all the other Oireachtas representatives from Kilkenny. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle raised the matter in the House some time ago. The correspondence received by Oireachtas Members from SIPTU last week was a truthful recollection of the meeting that took place in which the Tánaiste gave a commitment to the workers. I accept that a mistake may have been made but based on that commitment the workforce took a certain course of action and they should not be penalised for it. The outcome should be the payment of €10,000 each for the Comerama workers.
The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, was good enough to meet the workforce and listen to their appeals, as well as mine and those of other Oireachtas Members on many occasions in this House. I urge him to try to find a way to fulfil the commitment given by the unions so the payment can be ring-fenced and made to the workers. If a way can be found to ring-fence this money the political will is there to ensure the payments are made. I urge the Minister to look favourably on the case made in recent weeks by the union, SIPTU, and the workers involved at this time of goodwill.