Thursday, 17 December 2020
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
103. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on progress made on implementing the Duffy Cahill report recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43553/20]
I thank the Deputy for raising the question. We had a good committee discussion on this recently and the Deputy might have had a chance to review the transcript of that. The Government has committed in the programme for Government to review whether the current legal provisions surrounding collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers. It is in the programme for Government and, in the first meeting the Tánaiste and I had with Mandate and the former workers of Debenhams, we committed to doing this review. They had two issues in their campaign. One was to see if the legislation could be strengthened for anyone in future situations; the other was to pursue their former company for their ex gratia payments.
The responsibility for employment rights, redundancy and insolvency recently transferred to my Department from the Department of Social Protection. The recommendations made in the Cahill Duffy report are being revisited as part of that review. The Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I are involved in this because it impacts on company legislation as well as employment legislation. We have asked the Company Law Review Group to look again at the aspects of company law in this area and that group is due to report back to us before the end of the month. We have jointly met with employer and union representative bodies in November to continue a discussion on the various legislative provisions that deal with redundancy and insolvency from both a company law and an employment law perspective. There has been engagement and toing and froing around recommendations and suggestions in that conversation. Included in that is the Cahill Duffy report and the recommendations in that. There have been positive and constructive engagement and meetings with the stakeholders, where the discussion focused on identifying whether there are gaps or weaknesses in either body of legislation. Following this meeting, the Department has continued to engage with the employer and union groups to help advance our review of the legislative protection under company and employment law for workers in the context of insolvency and redundancy generally.
We are clear on this as a Department and a Government. If this process identifies areas where we can strengthen the position and make the law more effective, we will do that. The committee the Deputy is involved in does similar work and the chair has undertaken a review of the Cahill Duffy report. Naturally, we took part in the committee proceedings and I made a commitment that we would engage with the committee again when it was appropriate during January to review suggestions and recommendations.
The last Government, led by the Minister of State's party, failed to implement Duffy Cahill. The Minister of State and the Tánaiste have been in denial about that. They deny the negative consequences for our workers. Deny, deny, deny. They denied that in Debenhams it would have made any difference, saying it was different from Clerys because Clerys had a building, etc. Of course, that is true but the Government turned a blind eye to the fact that there is €9 million worth of fixtures and fittings in Debenhams, according to a report submitted to the courts. There is €12 million worth of stock - cost price - according to documents submitted to the courts. In online business, the ownership and address of debenhams.iewas changed in a three-day period in the springtime from Dublin to London.
Duffy Cahill would have given greater legal force to enhance redundancy deals which would have done no harm to the Debenhams workers in their campaign. Rather than deny, deny, deny, will the Minister of State not hold his hands up and seriously consider offering a better deal to the Debenhams workers, who rightly feel the Government has let them down badly?
We have had many discussions on Debenhams in this House and we have had a committee discussion on Cahill Duffy. The authors of the Cahill Duffy report have not backed the Deputy up on his claims that the implementation of the recommendations would effect any case in Debenhams. My colleagues and I have looked at this quite a lot over the last couple of month and I see no evidence that the recommendations in the Cahill Duffy - the Deputy keeps referring to Duffy Cahill but it is the Cahill Duffy report - would help the cause. There is no proof of that. The authors have not said that. The committee has not said that yet. This is what we are looking at. If we can strengthen the legislation, we are committed to doing it.
The recommendations of the Cahill Duffy report were specific to a case and to certain cases being dealt with. Those recommendations were looked at before by previous Departments. We are committed to looking at them again in light of other events to see if they are worth implementing. We are focused on that. Others have made other suggestions and we take all of that on board. The Deputy repeatedly comes in here and makes claims regarding the Debenhams situation and I have not seen evidence to back up his claims about assets and movement of online assets. The courts will judge that and laws are in place to track assets if they have been removed and so on. The Deputy keeps saying this. I have repeatedly suggested that if he has any evidence, he should present it.
The chair of the Labour Court met with all involved, reviewed this and made recommendations. Again, they do not seem to mirror the Deputy's interpretation. The Deputy has to be honest with workers. He references money and assets which he claims are there, but the courts do not seem to back him up on that. They will judge this in a liquidation context.
We are committed as a Government to doing all we can to help the workers of Debenhams. We have worked with the Labour Court chair to put in place a fund that will enable the workers to find new jobs, reskill and retrain for other areas or start up their own business within the retail sector or another sector. That is a significant fund on behalf of the taxpayer to help their cause as well as reviewing the legislation. More importantly, the State has paid out the statutory entitlement. That is what the State is there to do: to back up statutory entitlements when workers are made redundant in insolvency situations.
Equally, the authors of the Cahill Duffy report have failed to back the Tánaiste's view that the report would under no circumstances have been of assistance to the Debenhams workers. The important thing is that the legislation is implemented.
Has the Tánaiste received any communications from trade union officials in the last half hour asking him to stop making the kind of comments he made in the Dáil earlier because they might be somewhat embarrassing to Ireland's trade union officialdom? The Tánaiste told Deputy O'Reilly that he hoped our Arcadia workers would run over the hill when they saw these people - in other words, socialists - coming and instead take the advice of their trade union leaders. Trade union leaders might be embarrassed to hear those kinds of comments being made by Ireland's most famous Thatcherite, who is on record as calling for the banning of strikes, certainly in sections of the public sector. The Tánaiste might wish to comment.
If the Deputy was here for all the questions, he would know the Tánaiste was here for the last hour and a half, so could not be reading correspondence from trade unions.
As I referenced in the Arcadia conversation last week, we ask that people who find themselves in difficult situations of insolvency or companies being liquidated listen to the advice of the unions. Unions are experienced and best placed to give out good advice. In our view, they have given good advice over the last couple of months. Others have given other counter-advice, including the Deputy. He comes in here with claims around assets and millions here and millions there. I have not seen any evidence. He has probably given advice to workers based on his opinion on what assets are there. That might not always be the best advice. We would say the unions are in the best position to give good advice and guidance, have negotiated quite well and have worked with us as a Government around the review of the legislation. We have said we will take on board any positive recommendations. If we can strengthen the legislation on behalf of workers, of course we will do it. Why would we not?
It involves a review of the Duffy-Cahill report's recommendations as well as other recommendations from the unions. We are doing all of that.
We will move forward in a positive way if that is effective, but I remind the Deputy that previous reviews over the past four or five years have referenced the fact that there is already a great deal of legislation in place - company law and employment law - to protect employees because we value that as a country. We need to determine why that legislation is not always utilised to its full potential.