Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Redundancy Payments (Amendment) Bill 2022: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

2:30 pm

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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The Minister of State, Deputy English, is very welcome to the Chamber. He has ten minutes in which to make his opening remarks.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Acting Chairperson. I am glad to be here to focus on, discuss and introduce the Redundancy Payments (Amendment) Bill 2022 to Seanad Éireann. It is a short but important piece of legislation in response to the Covid-19 situation.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020, the Government has sought to protect as many businesses, jobs and workers as possible through the early introduction of the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, temporary wage subsidy scheme, TWSS, and its longer-term successor, the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS. This was followed by many targeted measures for businesses, which have been critical in keeping them afloat and preventing redundancies over the last two years.

Many sectors are yet again rebounding relatively quickly since the lifting of restrictions. This is a real tribute to the resilience of businesses and employees. We have good reason to be optimistic but a uniform and smooth recovery is not guaranteed and, regrettably, some redundancies will probably arise, which brings me to the objective of this Bill.

This Bill will resolve an issue arising for employees who were laid off for periods because of the necessary Covid-19 public health restrictions and who were subsequently made redundant. The Bill will ensure that a worker who was laid off due to Covid-19 restrictions is not further disadvantaged. On being made redundant, that person will receive the same statutory redundancy entitlement as though he or she had not been laid off due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Under existing redundancy provisions, a period of lay-off within the final three years of service before a worker is made redundant is not allowable as reckonable service. Therefore, that lay-off period is not counted towards a worker’s statutory redundancy payment. As a result of the necessary Government decisions to close and restrict certain sectors of our economy, some workers lost the opportunity to accrue reckonable service. This Bill will provide for a Covid-19 related lay-off payment from the State, which, in the event of the worker’s redundancy, will cover lay-off periods due to Covid-19 restrictions.

During the debate on Second Stage in the Dáil, some members queried why lay-off periods beyond 30 September were not being covered by the Covid-19 related lay-off payment. At the time, that was because of the link made between the payment and the emergency period covered by the section 12A suspension of a worker’s right to trigger a redundancy.

It was the right approach when the policy was approved and brought through Cabinet. We listened to Deputies on the Second Stage and Committee Stage discussions, however, and agreed that the arrival of the Omicron variant and new restrictions demanded further consideration to increase the timelines.

Accordingly, we proposed an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage, which was agreed to, extending the period covered out to 31 January 2022. This new period covers the additional restrictions that were in place until 22 January and allows some additional lead-in time during which the most affected businesses may have been preparing to reopen fully. For completeness, I should also mention that I also tabled an amendment to correct a minor cross-referencing error in the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Act 2021 on Committee Stage.

I will turn back to the substance of the Bill, again, to clarify who qualifies for this payment. A worker does not have to have been in receipt of any form of State payment during the lay-off period. The criteria are simply that the person qualifies for redundancy in the usual way, was laid off because of Covid-19 restrictions and was made redundant within three years of those restrictions ending.

The amount an eligible worker will receive will depend on the length of time he or she was placed on lay-off due to Covid-19 before the date they were made redundant. The Bill does not change the fact that the employers are obliged to pay statutory redundancy to eligible workers, which excludes lay-off periods, in the final three years of employment. Employers will not be liable for this additional payment, however. The Covid-19 restrictions that resulted in lay-offs were completely outside the employers' control. Imposing this cost on employers would, therefore, be unfair. It would also conflict with wider Government policy, which since the start of the pandemic has been to minimise financial hardship for businesses and their workers during the most challenging of times.

This Bill provides the best outcome for both employers and employees. It will provide the legislative basis for the Department of Social Protection to process applications and make this payment to workers. It will be an employer-led online application process in the first instances. This is the most efficient approach from a customer service perspective. In the event that an employer fails to make an application, however, I assure Members that manual applications from workers will be accepted and they will not lose out.

Intensive work is ongoing on the development of the necessary systems. Officials in the Department of Social Protection expect to open the application process during quarter 2 of this year. I thank the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, all the officials and her team for their important work in facilitating this.

This Bill will improve the entitlements of workers without imposing additional costs on employers. I commend the Bill to the House. I look forward to hearing Senators' contributions tonight.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I thank the Minister of State very much. We will now hear from the group spokespersons. Senator Ahearn will speak first for Fine Gael.

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for being here this evening. I thank him and his Department for all the supports that have been put in place for businesses right across the country throughout the past two years. The work the Minister of State's Department has done has been greatly appreciated and acknowledged from an employer and employee perspective.

This is an element of something that happens after the fact of Covid-19, which we acknowledge needs to be rectified. As the Minister of State said, it is an important Bill. It is short, obviously, but it is still important. We as a Government have been there to support employees and businesses, whether it is through the EWSS, PUP, Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, or the range of payments that have been there for businesses throughout the past two years. We also need to be there to support the businesses and employees on technical matters like this.

This will obviously support the payment of employees if they receive redundancy payments over the next three years if they lose their jobs. It looks at the time period for which they were out of work through Covid-19. That is really important to recognise. It certainly was not their fault or anyone's fault that they were laid off.Employers did not want to lay off staff. We are doing this for those who were out of work for a specific period of time, essentially March 2020 up to last month. If I am correct, the cost per person is just over €2,000. While it is not a significant amount of money that the State has to put aside for people who might possibly lose their jobs over the next three years but it is an important element to recognise that this particular time when they were out of work would not have been the case under normal circumstances. It is important their redundancy payments reflect that.

As I said, this is really important. It is a necessary measure. Hopefully, there will not be too many people affected but for those who are, the State is here to support them. The Minister of State will be aware that businesses have had it very difficult over the past two years. In light of what is happening now in Europe, it is not going to be easy for businesses going forward either. For some, it could be even more difficult. The price of heating has increased to €1.40. On my way here today from Tipperary I pulled into a service station in Laois to get diesel, where the cost per litre is €2.04. There are people who monitor diesel prices all of the time, as I do, but I do not think I have ever been as shocked by an increase as I was today. When I was paying, I asked the employee at the counter if many of the people coming into the shop were expressing shock at the price they are paying for diesel at the moment and she said, "Yes". Her next response was, "We're actually putting up again tonight". It has almost never been done before, but the State needs to intervene in some capacity to support businesses.

Over the weekend, I had an engagement with a haulage company where I heard it would pay hauliers not to deliver the services and the goods they have committed to in contracts agreed previously. They have sought to revise prices with the companies to reflect the increase of the cost of petrol and diesel and while some companies understand and are agreeing revisions, others have refused and are sticking to what was agreed. The haulage companies would be better off just not delivering but they will not do that. They are, however, under immense pressure.

Where I come from in Tipperary many people have only recently returned to work post Covid. Many of them, as the Minister of State will know because he recently visited the area, are people who have to travel to work in places such as Cork, Waterford and Limerick. The State is crediting people €200 for energy bills. There are people in my town in Clonmel and in Tipperary whose travel costs per week have increased by €100. Before the Covid pandemic, they had to put only €100 per week of diesel into the tank to get to and from Cork over five days. The cost in that regard now is €200. We speak often about the increases in the cost of many things but this is beyond manageable for employees who need to travel to work and for employers as well. I know I am straying from the Bill but the current cost of fuel is unusual. The Minister of State and the Government need to support business through this difficult time. There is immense worry about where this is going to go and where it is going to end.

I welcome this Bill. It is really important. It is another acknowledgement that we get it that people need to be supported not only during the pandemic but post pandemic. There are long-term issues that remain to be resolved. I am happy to support the Bill.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. As stated by Senator Ahearn, everybody in the House is supportive of the Bill. As it progressed through the Dáil, equally there was support for it there. It is logical, common-sense legislation that is to be welcomed. However, I want to speak a little about the pandemic and the Government's approach to it. The Government has tried to facilitate everybody, from the employer down to the employee. It sought to ensure that those who lost their jobs were looked after through the PUP and it incentivised businesses through the EWSS to keep their employees in the workplace rather than making them redundant.

In his opening remarks, the Minister of State spoke about the resilience of businesses. That resilience was based on what Government did for businesses. It allowed businesses to survive. It gave them the tools to enable them to get through the two years of the pandemic. In terms of my own industry - I am not afraid to put this on the record - but for the Government supports our businesses would have closed. The EWSS enabled us to maintain ten of our 40 full-time staff for the full two years of the pandemic. Had that scheme not be put in place, those staff would have been laid off. Sadly, many people returned to their homes and they do not propose to return and so we are once again experiencing a skills shortage.

I welcome the two changes to take account of the Omicron variant, that is, the increase in the rate and the extension of the redundancy period up to January 2025. We do not yet know the full impact of the past two years on the viability of businesses going forward. A significant number of businesses have borrowed over the past two years. That borrowing now has to be repaid. Worryingly, over €3 billion was lodged in the tax warehousing scheme by small businesses. Those businesses now have to pay that back. That will be the struggle.

You could not have written the script. After coming out of Covid, before we know it we are into a war situation that is again testing the viability of businesses. Senator Ahearn mentioned the haulage business. I engaged with five hauliers yesterday. Senator Ahearn is correct that many of them are saying that one more hike in the price of diesel will park them up. The margins are getting tighter and tighter. An increase of approximately €1 in the cost of diesel will have a significant impact on that margin. Diesel costs would normally be a 30% cost for that business. It is now between 50% and 60% of the business. It is no longer viable for them. The Government will have to step in, whether through the diesel rebate scheme or a reduction in excise duty, which I understand is currently being considered. When transport costs increase all costs increase. We all need deliveries, be that the delivery of food, oil and so on. It is a cost that we all have to bear. I ask the Minister of State to take that back to those making the decisions. According to the hauliers, this needs to be done sooner rather than later. Every day we wait, business becomes less worthwhile for the haulage industry. Some will try to get out of contracts but others may just park up.

Everybody in the House welcomes this Bill. As I said, the Government has taken a common-sense, logical approach in terms of protecting the employee and the employer. I welcome the Bill and I look forward to its speedy passage through the House.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English. My apologies for not being here for his earlier contribution. I am speaking on behalf of my colleague, Senator Gavan, who has asked me to pass on his apologies for not being here.

The Redundancy Payments (Amendment) Bill 2022 is a response to the decision taken at the beginning of the pandemic whereby section 12A of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 was suspended. This was at a time when thousands of people suddenly found themselves out of work and when life as we knew it shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a terrible shock and a traumatic time for those affected by job losses and for so many small business owners who had to close their doors. The decision taken to suspend section 12A at that time was taken to protect workers from being made redundant. Employers were also protected so that they would not be inundated with workers applying for redundancy payments. However, because of the decision, several technical difficulties arose for workers who were laid off or on short time and for those in receipt of the PUP.It raised serious concerns that they would not have the fair calculation of reckonable service if they were made redundant and as a result they might then lose out on significant sums of money regarding a redundancy claim. In response to these concerns, Sinn Féin introduced a Bill last March, the Redundancy Payments (Lay off, Short Time and Calculation of Reckonable Service) Bill 2021, the aim of which was similar to that of the Bill before the House this evening, namely, to ensure workers would not lose out on time when it came to the calculation of a redundancy entitlement. The Bill before us is quite similar and it is very welcome. The Sinn Féin Bill went a bit further as it sought to clarify some workers' rights issues that had arisen. My Sinn Féin colleague, Teachta O'Reilly, tried to make amendments on Committee Stage but unfortunately they were ruled out of order. However, we will continue to support the Bill because of the importance of what it does achieve despite what it does not.

The Bill provides for a once-off redundancy payment to workers in respect of certain lay-off periods, during the period beginning on 13 March and ending at the end of September 2021. Under the Redundancy Payments Act, statutory redundancy is based on duration of service and a qualified employee is entitled to two weeks' pay per year of service, plus a bonus week, subject to a cap of €600 in earnings per week, payable by the employer. Under the existing Act, periods of lay-off in the final three years of service do not count as reckonable service, meaning that redundancy entitlements will not factor in those periods. Therefore that would result in a loss in relation to redundancy payments. Thankfully, that is addressed within the Bill. It ensures affected workers can access a tax-free State payment of up to €1,860 financed by the Social Insurance Fund to compensate for the break in their service caused by the pandemic and associated public-health restrictions.

It would be good to hear from the Minister of State at this point on whether there are more details about the operational and practical side of delivering the scheme and rolling it out. There will be people anxiously waiting to find out how and when they can apply. We want to work with the Minister of State to get this legislation over the line as efficiently and effectively as possible but it is important that the details of how the scheme will be delivered are explained for people. We do not want to see a situation where the scheme sits between two Ministers with neither really taking full responsibility, because it is not clear whether responsibility will be directly upon the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment or upon the Minister for Social Protection. Will the Minister of State clarify at this stage whether the application will be online or paper-based and how it will work in practice? The details on that would be very helpful.

I want to make a point about what the Bill does not achieve, and I want to finish by raising the issue of tactical insolvency. The Minister of State, Deputy English, was very accommodating at the Committee on Enterprise, Trade, and Employment when discussing this matter with my colleague, Teachta O'Reilly. However, I want to read into the Official Report of the Seanad the need for legislation to deal with tactical insolvencies, which have the result of destroying workers' collective redundancy entitlements. We saw it with Clerys, La Senza, Paris Bakery, TalkTalk, and Debenhams how tactical and other opaque insolvencies can ruin workers' collective redundancy entitlements and damage public finances. This legislation recognises the fact that, through no fault of their own, workers found themselves on lay-off and they should not find themselves disproportionately impacted by something that was not their fault. Likewise in the situation of a tactical insolvency, workers who have given good and loyal service find themselves in a situation whereby the company goes out of business and they are left with absolutely nothing. The majority of companies do not engage in this practice but legislation is required for those that do. They are only small in number and I would not want to portray this as a case of all workers being in danger of this happening to them. However, when it happens it is absolutely devastating. The Minister of State gave a detailed outline of where things currently stand with Government legislation to correct the lacuna in the law which is exploited by companies engaging in tactical and opaque insolvencies and I thank him for that. We all want to work together to resolve this matter, and I know the Committee on Enterprise, Trade, and Employment will be looking at it further. I hope this House, the Dáil, the committee and the Ministers can work together to ensure that what happened to the workers at Clerys, La Senza, Paris Bakery, TalkTalk, and Debenhams never happens again.

Photo of Annie HoeyAnnie Hoey (Labour)
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First, I must offer my apologies. As it is International Women's Day, I am scooting from one Zoom event to another today. It is a big day for us gals. I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. The Labour Party of course supports this Bill. It will bring peace of mind to many workers who were laid off during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. During the past two years, our society made many large changes for the greater good of public health. The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 gave legislative effect to many of these changes. This groundbreaking emergency legislation was rightly introduced at great speed and it is perhaps to be expected that such a wide-ranging and fast-moving Act was not going to be perfect. Indeed, issues around the Act's medium and long-term effect on workers' access to fair redundancy were raised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and by the Labour Party at the time. My colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile has referenced other parties and Members of both Houses who raised concerns with this. My colleague, Deputy Nash, in particular was highly vocal about the real risk to workers in the manner in which the section 12A of the Redundancy Payments Act was suspended. While the State's plan for emergency support payments required the suspension of normal redundancy rules in order to prevent widespread job losses during lockdown, the Act left many workers badly exposed against the risk of future redundancy. Without the measures in this Bill, workers made redundant from 2024 onwards would find themselves unable to count any time they spent on the pandemic unemployment payment towards a fair calculation of their redundancy entitlement. In other words, workers who were temporarily laid off during the pandemic and who later unfortunately are made redundant, will find that some or all of their time employed during 2020 and 2021 will not count towards their redundancy claim. The financial cost to these workers would have been significant. Workers who did the right thing in taking the pandemic unemployment payment, doing their part to keep their employers and our economy afloat would have found themselves out of pocket at the worst possible time. Obviously it is extremely welcome that this problem is now being corrected and that workers seeking to access their redundancy rights will now be able to get a fair accounting of their employment during the pandemic.

By passing this short Bill we are restoring vital supports for workers who, it is to be hoped, will never need to access them. I repeat that this is welcome but I also repeat that this problem we are now correcting was identified by the Labour Party, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and others at the time it was being created. An amendment was tabled by Deputy Nash which would have corrected this issue before it even began. That amendment was ultimately withdrawn in the interests of speedy passage of the emergency legislation, with reassurances from the Government that this issue would be fixed in time. Time has passed, it is now being fixed but perhaps we could reflect on the fact that had the Labour amendment been accepted back in 2020, we could have had really strong emergency legislation without the need for this corrective measure two years later. Ultimately I do not believe there was any need to leave workers who had been laid off during the pandemic with uncertainty hanging over their heads. There was very much uncertainty outside of this uncertainty hanging over workers' heads. Of course it is good to see this uncertainty removed and we will be supporting this Bill.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation. It is a very short Bill and I am delighted that the Minister has brought it forward. It gives certainty to people who were laid off or are going to be laid off up to 2025 in some cases. It provides for their statutory redundancy. In the overall context, in my view it still does not address the whole issue of redundancy, in particular for self-employed people and sole traders. I have repeatedly made this point in this House. I have drafted a Private Members' Bill which I will bring forward in the next couple of weeks. A highly unfair imposition is put on self-employed people and sole traders who employ people and who start out employing people in the greatest of faith. They are fully committed to their businesses and for some reason or other the business may fail, close down or they may want to retire. There is no system whereby the employer can make provision for a business that may fail or close. At the end of the day when the business closes, the employer has to find two weeks' pay per year for the staff members who were employed for maybe ten or 20 years, I think there is a limit on the number of years that can be counted. If the employer cannot pay it, of course the State will pay but eventually the State will come after the employer. That means that a charge can be put on the family home. The Bill that I am bringing forward will be to eliminate the risk to the family home from statutory redundancy, in particular in the case of self-employed people and sole traders who are employing a small number of people and who do not have the same protection as companies that are protected.

In the long run, the Government must find some system where this is paid. It is only right that employees would be paid and paid properly and so on but some provision has to be made. At the end of the day, somebody who employs people for 20 or 30 years can have a charge put on the family home. There could well be a dependent child in the house for whom the family would like to make provision for when they die but the charge is put on the family home.They have employed people, paid their taxes, paid for the Civil Service and so on. It is an awful imposition to put on people who do not have the protection of a company. They start up a business in good faith and hope that it will grow and grow. They never contemplate a day when their business will fail, but businesses do fail in lots of cases. Indeed, in this particular climate, there will be many businesses that will fail. There will be businesspeople between now and 2025 who will have no choice but to give up, who will determine that they cannot continue because they are getting too old, that the business is not making money or that it is no longer viable. Those people, unless they have the protection of a company, will have no choice but to make redundancy payments to their staff. Under this Bill, the Government is making provision for a number of years.

I ask the Minister of State to look favourably on the Bill that I will be bringing forward. In the long run, there must be some system whereby employers can contribute to a fund that would cover those eventualities. Even if employers choose to put a certain amount of money away, it is taxed. If they put away a week's wages for some of the staff, they have to pay tax on it. They cannot offset it or make any provision. A businessman I know had to cash in all of his private pension in order to cover redundancy payments. Even that did not cover him and now there is a charge on his family home. I have spoken to various Ministers about this. They have the greatest sympathy for this person and for others in similar circumstances, but that is not much good.

I welcome this Bill and the provisions it contains. I also welcome the structures the Government put in place during the pandemic. I thank the Minister of State for bringing this Bill forward and I wish him well with it.

Acting Chairperson (Senator Pauline O' Reilly):

As there are no other Senators offering, I call on the Minister of State to conclude the debate.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senators for their contributions and for their positive comments on the Bill. I will tease through some of the issues that were raised.

I understand that Senator Hoey had to leave to attend an International Women's Day event. Today is an important day and we are all very supportive of it. On International Women's Day, I am glad to give a shout out to all of the women involved in our country and beyond and to acknowledge all they do to contribute to society, business and job creation. On that note, I am delighted to see that there is more of a gender balance among those who own and run companies and among employers right throughout the system, including on boards of directors. We all gain when there is a better gender balance, whether that is in politics, business, communities or families. I am delighted, from a business point of view, to see greater involvement of women in decision-making. That is something we can build on and it is something the Tánaiste is very keen to develop even further.

On the Bill, I thank Senators for their considered thoughts on it and for their support. As I said in my opening remarks, the intention is to have this system up and running in quarter 2 of this year. The payment system will be run by the Department of Social Protection. This legislation has been brought forward by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection. A great deal of work has been done over the past year or two by both Departments in order to make sure we get this right. I acknowledged in the Dáil and at committee but forgot to mention it here that there was support from all political parties over the past two years for this to happen. We said very clearly that this would happen. It was announced and confirmed by Cabinet in August 2021. People should not have had any anxiety about it because we have always said clearly that, in conjunction with the unions, this would be addressed at the appropriate time. The appropriate time to address and confirm it was before section 12A of the Redundancy Payments Act was lifted last October. That was dealt with, and the system will be up and running soon.

Some technical advancements had to be made in the Department of Social Protection over the past few months to get this right. The Department is working on its systems, and this should be up and running hopefully in the first half of quarter 2. That is what we are going to try to do. It will be online and employer-led but there will be situations where the employer is no longer around or may not want to be involved. We will ensure that every employee is looked after so if an employer does not lead with the online application, we will deal with paper transactions for employees. In that way, everybody will be captured and nobody will be left out. People will not fall between two stools. Those days are gone thanks to joined up thinking across all Departments. There has been great co-operation between the two relevant Departments on this legislation.

Senator Ahearn asked what the maximum payment would be in rough terms. If someone was laid off for the whole period of the Covid restrictions, the maximum payment would be approximately €2,268 so the Senator's estimate of €2,000 was nearly right. Thankfully, the majority are not in that situation. The majority were at work for some periods during the restrictions and, hopefully, even those people who were laid off for all of that time will not be made redundant. As Senator Casey said, however, we do not know the full fallout from Covid yet or what will happen to those companies. Senator Burke made that point too. This legislation is pre-empting situations that might arise over the next three years. It is important and timely. As Senator Casey said, it is common sense and logical to try to be ready for scenarios that might arise while hoping that they do not. The Department of Social Protection will operate this as a Covid-19-related lay-off payment. We will update the House when the process is up and running.

Another issue that was raised was the development of solutions in the context of informal insolvency. Again, to be clear, there is already legislation in place for this. It is not often referred to in the Houses and it is not often used. When we sat down with the Debenham's workers we agreed that we would try to strengthen the legislation that is in place. The Tánaiste was very clear about that when we met them first, along with their union, Mandate. We went through all of this with them and said we would review the situation to see if we could strengthen the law in this area. It was not appropriate to bring forward any changes in this legislation. Some of the changes required will involve other legislation. Consultations have been ongoing with trade union and business representative bodies, and there have also been discussions in these Houses, around deficiencies in company and employment law and changes that could be made to improve the position of employees who find themselves in a redundancy situation due to company insolvency. Following that engagement, the Government's plan for action on collective redundancy following insolvency was published last year.

I am happy to provide an update to the House now. On company law, the Companies (Rescue Process for Small and Micro Companies) Act 2021, which was discussed in the Seanad, amended the Companies Act to enhance the provision of information to employees as creditors. Employees were not always kept up to date in terms of the information to which they were entitled so that has now changed. The company law review group presented its report on the consequences of certain corporate liquidations and restructuring practices, including the splitting of corporate operations from asset-holding entities in group structures to the Tánaiste and Minister of State, Deputy Troy, in December 2021. This work reflects complex policy issues and the Department is currently examining the recommendations made in the context of the plan for action. The Government will provide for any necessary further amendments to the Companies Act and will do so in a way that does not unduly impede enterprises in the conduct of their business. That report will be published, along with the recommendations from the Department on it, very soon.

I am not going to name any companies but some situations have been name-checked in here and in Dáil debates which are not correctly in that category. There are very big differences with some of these situations but we will strengthen the legislation in general. I am not going to reopen the whole debate, but there has been some misinformation on this that is not backed up by evidence. I have repeatedly asked for that evidence in both Houses. Again, I would ask those who constantly make claims that if they have information that the Department does not have, please bring it forward and we will act on it. It is not right to keep making assertions without backing them up. That is all I would say, particularly as the courts have a different view to that of members of these Houses. Misinformation does not help when we are trying to bring forward legislation to deal with these situations. Regarding the situation with a particular company last year, I would say that people were given misinformation and led in the wrong direction by some politicians. That resulted in a lot of unnecessary hardship for people who were led down a path that delayed them in moving on with their careers. People were not always well served. We should deal with the facts and the evidence as best we can.

On changes to employment law that are recommended, an information handbook was published in December 2021 which provides clear and accessible information on the rights and remedies available to employees facing a collective redundancy situation following a company insolvency. That handbook helps people to navigate the system with clear, concise information on their entitlements. The drafting of the heads of a Bill amending the Protection of Employment Act 1977 has commenced and that Bill we be brought before the Houses very soon. Work has also commenced on the drafting of the terms of reference for the employment law review group and on organising suitable membership of same. Our immediate focus is to get this group up and running, initially on a non-statutory basis, in quarter 1 of this year, and the Tánaiste will be announcing that quite soon.That group will be placed on a statutory footing as soon as possible thereafter. We are progressing with our commitment to strengthen the legislation in that area. We recognise the difficulties for anybody who ends up in a redundancy situation. It is not one that workers want to be in and, as Senator Burke referenced, it is not one that their employers want to be in. Most people start and grow a business with the full potential to serve an area and to provide a service or an asset, or to deliver or make some goods, but part of that involves the creation of jobs. They take that role very seriously. That is certainly the case with all the Irish-owned companies that we work with on a daily basis through our development agencies. They are very much committed to their staff. While they never want to be in a redundancy situation, it can happen and we must protect everybody as best we possibly can in that situation.

I look forward to Senator Burke's Bill coming forward and to having a conversation with him because he has identified an area that we all recognise. There are a lot of small businesses out there who are under immense pressure to try to find finance to meet everyone's entitlements if a situation goes wrong. There is legislation to protect employees with statutory entitlements but very often an employer is left with one asset and that must be sold in order to pay the redundancies. I am not aware of too many situations where a family home is pursued by the Department of Social Protection for the Social Insurance Fund. It is my understanding that it is generally avoided, but I will check that. It is something we can discuss and clarify as well during the debate on the Senator's Bill. None of us would like to see that happening, whatever about other assets. There are companies that are in other situations. The Department of Social Protection works with employers to avoid undue duress on anybody and it tries to find a payment mechanism to make it a bit easier for companies as well in a redundancy situation.

It was correctly identified earlier by Senator Ó Donnghaile that section 12A was there to protect jobs, businesses and workers. In some situations, if redundancies are triggered too early, it could put jobs in jeopardy. Likewise, when redundancy payments are due, there is a recognition by Departments that some companies need to be assisted in that regard in the early stages to save other jobs and they can pay it back over time. There are mechanisms in the Department of Social Protection to allow for assistance with statutory payments and for the money to be paid back over time. Efforts are made to work out a payment plan that suits to keep a business afloat and protect the jobs that are still there as well. We can discuss that further when Senator Burke brings forward the Bill but I am happy to work with him on it and to see if we can improve the situation. At the end of the day, we are trying to encourage more people to create jobs. We want to have jobs. All the signs are very positive in respect to the recovery from Covid, but that is because employers take a risk and give people jobs in the first place. I hope people will start companies and do all that. We try to be as employer-friendly as we possibly can, while also protecting workers, which is key. It is important to get the balance right. In most situations, as a country we get the balance right but we need to build on it as well.

That leads me to the points Senators Ahearn and Casey referenced. We have come through Covid, and companies have shown great resilience. They were assisted with the support of taxpayers through Government initiatives. That is key. Everyone gained from that. We still have a functioning economy. Thankfully, a lot of people are going back to work now or are back in work but there is more pressure on the system because although we have come through Covid, due to the war in Ukraine there is significant pressure on costs, especially energy costs, as Senator Ahearn mentioned. He referred to someone driving from Clonmel to work. Naturally, we want to keep all the people in Tipperary working in Clonmel and other parts of the county, but the reality is that people commute. It is now standard that a bill for fuel of €100 for people who must travel from Clonmel or Navan elsewhere to work, has doubled to €200. There is immense pressure on family income as well. The Government will be bringing forward initiatives to address that. It has done so already, but a lot has changed in the past ten to 14 days. More initiatives will be announced by the Government. That is also putting immense pressure on businesses. Senators Ahearn and Casey and others have raised that in the debate. Without doubt, there is so much pressure in the transport, distribution and logistics sector that it has a knock-on effect on any product or service that is for sale. The situation is being monitored and tracked by the Government, in conjunction with packages from the EU, to see how we can respond. Without a doubt, there will have to be additional supports. The economy is going to go through a difficult time with pressure on costs as a knock-on effect of all the sanctions and the consequences of what is happening in Ukraine. We are doing the right thing as a country to support the people of Ukraine as best we possibly can. We are doing all we can to help them by opening up our own borders, but it will have a knock-on effect on the economy and families and businesses will need assistance to get through this, and they will get it from the Government. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, have been talking about this recently and they will be bringing more initiatives forward in the coming days and weeks.

I have covered most of the issues raised. I will take a quick look to see if I have missed anything. It was correctly flagged by many people at the time that legislation would be coming through but now is the right time to do it and it will be in place for anybody who needs redundancy in the weeks ahead as well. If I missed anything, I will clarify it later. I thank Senators for supporting the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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Next Tuesday.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 15 March 2022.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 7.15 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 9 Márta 2022.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 9 March 2022.