Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
17. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the review by the Company Law Review Group of legal provisions on liquidations and the rights of employees in the context of company law; when the report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30198/21]
The Company Law Review Group, CLRG, is a statutory advisory body charged with advising the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on matters pertaining to company law. Its membership is broad and representative of all stakeholders, including employee and employer representative groups, the Revenue Commissioners, insolvency and legal practitioners as well as regulators. The members have an expertise in company law and provide a well-rounded analysis on the issues that come before them for consideration.
As part of the CLRG work programme, the Tánaiste requested they consider whether the legal provisions on collective redundancies and the liquidation of companies effectively protect the rights of workers as a matter of priority. A report was submitted to the Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and me on 5 March 2021, which included an Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, minority report. The recommendation included a revisit by the CLRG of some of the provisions of its previous analysis of the issue. The CLRG report has now been published on the group's website following its consideration by our officials.
I and the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, have jointly looked at the legislative provisions that deal with redundancy and insolvency from both a company law and an employment perspective which come under our respective remits. The report submitted by the CLRG along with the ICTU minority report were considered by our officials and both our community law unit and employment law unit as part of the development of a plan for action on collective redundancies following insolvency.
Both the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I discussed this plan with stakeholders last week. It was well received and we had a good long discussion on it as well. We intend for the plan to be published shortly after the Tánaiste brings it through Cabinet.
The plan details short-term and medium-term measures that will further enhance the protection of employees in a way that does not overly impede businesses and their operations. In preparing the plan, both the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and I, and the Department officials, consulted with trade unions and business representative bodies in identifying gaps or deficiencies in company employment laws that could improve the position of employees who find themselves in a redundancy situation due to a company insolvency.
The Government stands ready to respond as the plan progresses, as we committed to both in the programme for Government but also in July last when the Tánaiste met with Mandate and some of the Members in relation to Debenhams. At the time we committed to, if we could at all, strengthening the legal position in relation to the protection of employees in these situations. That is what we are trying to do.
I have the reply in my hand. I welcome that there is a plan and I welcome that it will be published. Perhaps the Minister of State can give a date. I will give the background to this. Duffy Cahill dates back to March 2016. Six years and a couple of months later, we witnessed the Debenhams workers. I managed to stand with them only on a few occasions. Certainly, they were the most impressive group, mostly women.
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, not to stand up and tell me it would not have helped the Debenhams workers because it arose from previous debacles in relation to Clerys and Connollys. That was the Duffy Cahill report. Perhaps it would not specifically have helped the Debenhams workers but it would have given some hope that the Government was serious about employee rights.
There were six recommendations then. All of them had to do with employment law, except one which was company law. The Government then got a review. What is the status of the review? Has it been completely published or are there parts still to be completed?
The plan of action has been discussed with the unions and stakeholders and they are happy with our plans on this. Once it goes through Cabinet, we can discuss it fully here.
To be clear, we have had many discussions around Debenhams and the Duffy Cahill report. The authors of that report have not made the assertion that the Deputies keep making in here that it would have assisted or would have prevented the situation in Debenhams. The Duffy Cahill report was written in response to a situation in Clerys which is not the same as Debenhams. It is wrong that, repeatedly, Members come in here and make that link without any evidence or any connection. They are not similar situations.
Of course, we committed to the Debenhams workers and to many others to review this situation and to see how we could strengthen the legal position, not only to look at Duffy Cahill, although that was part of our work, but at the overall area from both a company law and employment law point of view, and we are making changes in that respect.
Some of the work from the CLRG is not yet completed. That will come forward in the autumn. We will act on that as well. We are in a position to strengthen the protections and certainly enhance the guidance there and work with all involved. The unions are happy with our approach on that as well and that is an important point.
I tried to be careful with my words. I said clearly that it probably would not have helped the Debenhams workers.
The Minister of State should please not use his minute to be disingenuous.
There were six recommendations. Why were they not implemented? I asked that question in the context of confidence in this or any Government. I welcome the plan and that the Government will give us a date, but the Minister of State is telling me that there are other parts to be completed by the CLRG in September. Given various Government approaches to the Duffy Cahill report, I cannot have confidence that the review will be published in September. I want to work with the Minister of State, but his using his minute to misrepresent what I said is unacceptable. Have we learned anything from what happened to the Debenhams workers, the Connolly debacle, the Clerys debacle and many more besides?
I understand that Marks & Spencer is negotiating an agreement on redundancies. I will ask a specific question on the exclusion of people who were on sick leave for more than six months. Someone who has been out with Covid is excluded from participating in the voluntary redundancy scheme at Marks & Spencer. The Minister of State might reflect on that.
If the Deputy reads back over my answer, I did not say that she specifically was making that link. I said that Deputies in general had repeatedly come to the Chamber and tried to link the Debenhams and Clerys situations together. That is not based on the evidence presented to the Dáil or the courts. I wish to be clear on that. I will happily engage if people present the evidence they claim to have, but none has been.
Regarding the Marks & Spencer case, I will examine it. It is not something that I can discuss with the Deputy in the Chamber, but I would be happy to discuss it with her offline.
The Duffy Cahill report was examined by the previous Government and reviewed by various Departments. The decision was formally taken that it did not need to be implemented. At the time, it was not felt that the report's recommendations would strengthen the position. At the Tánaiste's direction, we undertook to review the matter, including the legislation in this space, to determine whether we could do anything to strengthen the position. A part of our plan will involve some of the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report, but not all six. I want to be clear on that. I will be happy to engage with the Deputy once the Cabinet has concluded its work on this matter.
We are in a position to strengthen the rights of workers, which we are committed to doing in everything we do in the Department, in particular in terms of redundancies and insolvencies.