Wednesday, 12 February 2003
Adjournment Matter. - Company Closures.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to raise this important matter. A critical situation has arisen in Ennis. This business was established in 1984 and produced high quality products for the printing sector. It ran successfully and employed approximately 50 people. A couple of years ago a new company, Graham and Heslip, which had some Northern Ireland connections was established.
Last Friday at 2 p.m. some of the representatives of the Belfast company came to the plant in Ennis, notified the people there that they were closing down the operation and gave them an hour to remove their personal belongings from the premises, which have since remained closed. The 50 people employed there were left without the balance of their wages and received no final entitlements. Repeated attempts by the union to make contact with the management have not yet met with success.
When the business was taken over, there were a number of meetings with the industrial development agencies. Even though approximately €300,000 was paid in grant assistance over a number of years, there is existing approval for an additional €100,000 for plant, machinery and training which has not yet been drawn down. The overall prospects, according to executives in the industrial development authorities and Shannon Development, were good. The company seemed to have a good product and a good customer base throughout the country. There were prospects of consolidating the company and safeguarding the jobs of the 50 people employed there.
This has been a devastating blow for Ennis, which has suffered a number of closures in recent times. The fact that the company closed down so quickly, with no prior notice and with employees given just an hour to vacate the premises, is unprecedented and unacceptable. Perhaps the Minister of State will draw the attention of the development agencies to this situation and seek an alternative industry. Can he also seek clarification or an indication from the persons involved in the company as to what their proposals are for paying workers their wages and entitlements and the future of the company? Concern has been expressed by Ennis Town Council. Its chairman, Mr. Peter Considine, was here this afternoon and there will be a special meeting of the council tomorrow evening to discuss the matter.
I ask the Minister of State or the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, to investigate the situation and endeavour to come to Ennis as soon as possible to meet the council and the people of Ennis and give an indication of how they propose to resolve the issue which is causing widespread unease in the current climate of industrial uncertainty. It is disturbing that a company which seems to have a venerable product, a good customer base and record since 1984 closes its doors without any explanation. We are not satisfied with the way its employees have been treated.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am aware of the sudden closure of the company in question which came about on Friday and, as the Senator said, without prior notice. Shannon Development, the industrial development agency with responsibility for the company in the mid-west region, immediately advised the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
This was a long-established company in Ennis. It was established as Thermofoil Print Limited in 1984. In early 2001 it was acquired by its present owners through a subsidiary company taking a 75% shareholding in the original company and one of the founders of the original company retaining the other 25%. It received considerable financial assistance from Shannon Development during the years.
The company designed and produced specialised products for the domestic market. Its main product areas were greeting cards, packaging, annual reports and promotional colour printing. I understand it had a good reputation as a specialist in a range of printing options, including full colour printing, embossing, watermarking and carton manufacture. A substantial number of employees had been with it for a number of years. Traditionally, it had been regarded as a stable source of employment in Ennis.
Shannon Development had a review meeting with the company last summer, at which stage the feedback was positive. Therefore, the news of the closure was surprising. It was a greater shock to the employees of the company. In recent days Shannon Development has tried to contact the company to discuss what is happening. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is also contacting the company with a view to alerting it to its statutory obligations.
There are certain provisions in employment legislation which must be complied with. Under the terms of sections 9 and 12, respectively, of the Protection of Employment Act 1977, an employer who proposes to undertake a collective redundancy is obliged to consult the employees' representatives and give the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment written notice of his or her proposals at the earliest opportunity at least 30 days before the first dismissals take effect. The Protection of Employment Act provides for significant penalties in the event of non-compliance by an employer with the relevant provisions. Furthermore, there are provisions whereby employees can refer to a rights commissioner complaints regarding non-compliance with information and consultation provisions. In addition, there are statutory provisions relating to minimum notice and redundancy payments which have to be complied with.
It is difficult to speculate at this stage on the future of the company and it would be unwise to do so. Until contact has been established with it, we cannot take the matter forward. Efforts to speak to it are ongoing but they have not been successful as yet, which I find surprising. I share the concerns expressed by Senators Daly and Dooley about this most unfortunate situation. Every effort is being made to unravel it. I hope to have a further report to give to Senator Daly before tomorrow evening and will be happy to travel to Ennis to meet representatives of the town council and the company on behalf of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to see if there is anything we can do to help.