Thursday, 21 April 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
 These are purely textual amendments which, according to the parliamentary draftsman, make for a better reading of the Bill. They do not warrant further explanation and I ask the House to accept them as textual amendments.
Mr. Bradford: I seek clarification on the question of reckonable pay? Perhaps I did not correctly understand the Minister earlier. The Minister of State stated that reckonable pay would not come under the normal limits of the Redundancy Payments Act, 1967. Yet, section 2 (2) of the Bill states that the amount of the lump sum shall be an amount equal  to the product of three times the former employee's normal weekly remuneration within the meaning of the Redundancy Payments Act, 1967. That contradicts the Minister of State. If this comes within the meaning of the 1967 Act, will the Minister explain why the limit that applies to normal redundancy entitlements does not apply in this case?
Mr. O'Shea: Under the Redundancy Payments Act, there are limits to reckonable earnings, but that will not be the position in this case. A ceiling will not operate here. As I understand it, this will apply to approximately five people. If those payments exceed £50,000 a ceiling of £50,000 on the total payment will apply, but under the Redundancy Payments Act a ceiling is not applied to reckonable earnings. The only ceiling which will apply is £50,000.
Mr. Bradford: I accept the point about the £50,000 ceiling. However, is it not the case that normal weekly remuneration will remain within the meaning of the Redundancy Payments Act, 1967 and that under that Act there is a strict application to normal weekly remuneration? It is not always the average weekly wage, a limit applies. Some weeks ago the Minister for Enterprise and Employment changed the calculation for normal weekly remuneration, but is there still not a limit on it?
Mr. O'Shea: The normal weekly remuneration will be assessed under the provisions of the 1967 Act, but a ceiling will not apply. That is the difference. The method of reckoning — allowable income — will remain the same, but there will not be a ceiling on that income.
Mr. O'Shea: The committee will advise the Minister in that area. The assessment of earnings will be made on foot of the normal criteria which apply under the Redundancy Payments Act in all respects other than the £250 limit.
Mr. Bradford: Perhaps the ex-employees would fare better if calculations were based on the new redundancy limit figure. Does the Minister have information on average weekly wages in 1984 and how they compare to the new redundancy limit of £250 per week?
In the absence of Deputies De Rossa and Rabbitte, both of whom are attending committee meetings, I will speak on the amendment. It provides for the appointment of a person to be nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to the proposed committee to advise the Minister on the implementation of various aspects of the Bill. Essentially, the Bill  provides for the payment of redundancy compensation. As someone who raised the issue on a number of occasions I welcome the Bill. It would be appropriate for the committee to include a representative of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This section would appear to anticipate difficulties or unusual situations that may arise.
Mr. Bradford: Deputy Gilmore has requested the nomination of an additional member to the committee and I accept his point that the trade union movement should be represented. Was the genesis of the committee a suggestion by the officials in the Department or representatives of the ex-employees? As only a small number of people, approximately 300, are involved, full employment and salary records should be available. There should not be a major difficulty in determining entitlements. Why could compensation payments not be made through normal channels rather than the proposed committee? I accept the Minister's point that the special committee will not result in additional expenditure and, hopefully, there will not be a delay in expending those payments. The committee would seem to be an unnecessary layer as the machinery already exists for the examination and payment of such claims. The Minister should indicate his views and those of the Minister for the Marine as to why it is proposed to establish the committee to negotiate settlements when the parameters are narrow and clearly defined.
Mr. O'Shea: First, I will deal with Deputy Gilmore's point. In the context of the general welcome for this legislation we would all desire that matters be dealt with and payments made to the former employees or their representatives as expeditiously as possible. The proposed committee will not be viewed as being representative on interest groups. If a representative of the ICTU was to be nominated to the proposed committee, the liquidator, the chamber of shipping or IBEC could also advance a case for  representation and such representation could further delay the process. The Department of the Marine decided to avail of the service of experts and to give transparency to the process. Each application will be formally examined. The committee will be established in the context of providing transparency and speedily expediting the processing of applications and payments. The legislation provides an appeal mechanism for unsuccessful applicants.
Mr. Gilmore: Most applications for payment will probably be straightforward. In any company where 300 employees are made redundant disputes may arise in respect of the date of commencement of employment, continuity of employment and so on. The former employees would require some assurance in respect of those matters. The proposed committee will advise the Minister as to how to deal with those matters. I note it is intended to appoint an officer of the Revenue Commissioners to the proposed committee. That appointment would be helpful from the point of view of taxation of the awards.
Will the Minister outline what the appeals mechanism involves? Will people covered by this legislation have recourse to the Employment Appeals Tribunal? In a normal redundancy situation disputes may arise over many matters including the length of service, employment commencement date, some aspect of the employment record or levels of pay to be taken into account for the calculation of the redundancy payment. In the normal course if a redundant employee is unhappy with some aspect of the redundancy package he or she would have access to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, but because this redundancy effectively took place ten years ago there will be a time bar on that under the Redundancy Payments Acts. I would like the Minister to explain the appeals mechanism.
The purpose of the amendment is to appoint within the mechanism being established by the Minister some body — the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is the  obvious one — which would keep an eye on the former employees' interests. I am not saying that anybody would deliberately try to deprive people of their entitlements but sometimes opinions on these matters differ. Given the experience of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in this area, it would take a helpful approach to the matter. I do not envisage the committee being engaged in conflicting debate. Various Departments of will be involved — the Departments of the Marine, Finance and the Revenue Commissioners, who take a particular interest when lump sums are handed out, and the Department of Enterprise and Employment — but there will be nobody on the committee to hold a watching brief on behalf of the employees, which would be helpful. The Minister should clarify whether these people will have recourse, as in other redundancy cases, to the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the event of a dispute arising about the method of calculation of redundancy payments.
Mr. Bradford: I would like the Minister to explain the genesis of the committee. I agree with Deputy Gilmore on the appeals mechanism. Under section 4 the only method of appeal is by way of representation to the Minister, the person who would have already refused payment. The Minister is setting himself up as judge and jury, which is unsatisfactory. He will make a decision on an application and if the person is unhappy with the decision he has recourse to appeal, but the person to whom the appeal must be made is the Minister who has already refused payment. That does not appear to be a satisfactory mechanism.
I have reservations about appointing extra members to the committee. I am not entirely satisfied with the setting up of a committee because this is a straightforward matter which could be sorted out without difficulty. Perhaps a further mechanism needs to be put in place to deal publicly and clearly with appeals.
Mr. O'Shea: The concerns expressed by the Deputies would be legitimate in the event of difficulties arising. In this case statutory redundancy has been dealt with and payments have been made. For that reason the Employment Appeals Tribunal would not be involved. We are talking about additional payments. We all agree that this process should go ahead as quickly as possible. Decisions will be transparent and will be based on facts and records which will enable the case to be dealt with without difficulty. As part of the appeals process there is provision whereby, within 21 days of a decision being made on an application, representations may be considered. In that context trade unions would have a meaningful role to play. Difficulties are not anticipated in the processing of applications, but it is acceptable to have a small expert group to advise the Minister in the context of expediting the processing of applications. In the event of disputes arising representations will be considered in the appeals process.
Mr. Gilmore: I accept it is possible in the appeals process for representation to be made. However, in the transaction of employer-employee business there is normally recourse to a third party to assess whether the method of calculation of redundancy payment is fair. I do not anticipate that many disputes will arise; the vast bulk of cases will probably be straightforward. However, a number of matters have to be taken into consideration. This issue has gone on for ten years and I do not know to what extent records have been maintained. Even in a company which closes down today in which 300 people have been employed, as in this case, since World War II, records may not be complete and disputes will arise.
The typical dispute that will arise is on the number of years' service and continuity of service. The definition of service under the Redundancy Payments Acts is continuous service. Is the Minister saying that calculation of redundancy payments will be on the basis of continuous service? What will happen where  there is broken service or where there is a dispute about whether a person's absence from the company for a period constitutes a break in service? They are some of the difficulties that will arise. The question of what constitutes weekly remuneration may also arise. Where a person has received a straightforward wage or salary that will be easy to calculate, but in some cases there may have been extra payments which have to be taken into account and disputes may arise as to the calculation of payment.
While I fully applaud the Minister in bringing this long overdue legislation to the House and at long last arranging for long overdue payments to the loyal former employees of this company, it is not appropriate that he should be judge, jury and paymaster in this affair. Applications will be made to the Minister and an interdepartmental committee will advise him on his decision. A person who is aggrieved with the decision will have 21 days within which to appeal, but essentially the appeal will be to the Minister who made the decision in the first instance.
It is not unreasonable, in what is really no more than an advisory committee, to have a representative of a body with experience and an interest in the way in which redundancy lump sum payments are calculated from the point of view of the employees. I am surprised that the Minister of State is resisting this amendment. It is not too much to ask, in an advisory committee which is advising the Minister of State is resisting this amendment. It is not too much to ask, in an advisory committee which is advising the Minister on how redundancy payments should be calculated, that a representative from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions should be present to look after the interests of the former employees. I am surprised at the degree of resistance to the amendment and I ask the Minister to accept it or, if he cannot, to at least give a commitment that he will consider the matter again before the Bill goes to the Seanad.
Mr. O'Shea: I have listened carefully to the points made by Deputy Gilmore but we should examine this legislation in the spirit in which it has finally arrived to  the Oireachtas. The Bill has not come to this House in a spirit of dispute; it has been introduced in a spirit of redressing a problem which has existed for a long time. Deputy Gilmore is anticipating a level of dispute that will not arise.
The Bill provides for definitions. The redundancy payments records, for example, which applied when payments under the Redundancy Payments Acts were made, can be made available and used. Deputy Gilmore sees this as a confrontational matter, which is not envisaged in the Bill. It is simply processing legislation to enable payments to be made, in addition to statutory redundancy payments, to the former employees of Irish Shipping. This is to be carried out in a transparent way and is the thinking behind the availability of the advisory committee to the Minister. If we increase the membership of that advisory committee, we could delay what we all feel is the most appropriate action, namely, to make payments to the former employees or their representatives as speedily as possible.
If we allowed a representative from the ICTU on the committee, other interests could legitimately claim a similar right. We should pass this legislation quickly through the Oireachtas, allow the processing to be done as quickly as possible thereby making the payments to the former employees speedily. I ask the Deputy to accept in good faith that where appeals arise they will be dealt with in a sympathetic manner.
Mr. Gilmore: I do not have a great deal of choice in the matter. The Minister greatly exaggerates when he imputes that I am suggesting there will be a confrontational element or that this proposal will in some way have a confrontational element to it. That is not the case and I thought I had made it quite clear that in the vast majority of cases I anticipate few problems. In a case involving 300 people, however, who have been made redundant — and particularly where the redundancies  were ten years ago — it is rare that there would not be a difference of opinion regarding the method of calculating the amount of payments, length of service, what constituted pay, etc.
I accept that the Minister is a fairminded man and has clearly anticipated that issues will have to be addressed — which is obviously why he set up this committee in the first place — to which he will not have answers. He appoints to the committee, therefore, representatives from his own Department and a representative from the Department of Enterprise and Employment, who will have an input in regard to the law, regulations etc., governing the making of redundancy payments. There will also be a representative from the Department of Finance who, presumably, will be there to keep an eye on the grand total of the cheques that will be issued ultimately and a representative from the Revenue Commissioners, who will keep an eye on what will be clawed back in taxation. The Minister can hardly expect us to believe that the representative from the Revenue Commissioners will act as some kind of a tax consultant to the former employees in relation to their tax affairs. All these people will be on the committee for a purpose and I am simply asking for a person on it who would be concerned with the primary interests of the former employees. I suggested a representative from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; I am aware the former employees have set up their own committee, and that is another way of doing this, but the principle of having someone on this new committee to look after their interests is important.
Mr. Bradford: Deputy Gilmore has convinced me in relation to setting up this committee, the fact that it is in place is an indication that minor difficulties or disputes are envisaged in regard to applications  for compensation. If such disputes should arise, it is important to have a person on the committee representing the interests of the former employees and who can make a case on their behalf. Other Departments and interests are represented on the committee. They all have their own job to do but it would also be appropriate to have a representative of the former employees on the committee.
Instead of the House dividing on the issue, will the Minister give a commitment to again examine the matter before it goes to the Seanad in the light of what has been said? It is not Deputy Gilmore's intention to be divisive; it is in everyone's interest not only to have this Bill passed as quickly as possible by both Houses of the Oireachhtas but that the applications will be received and responded to. The views expressed here are meant to be constructive and Deputy Gilmore is making a genuine case on which the Minister could look favourably. Perhaps before the debate in the Seanad he might go some way towards accommodating Deputy Gilmore's point of view.
Mr. O'Shea: I fully accept that the points made by both Deputies are made in a constructive way, which has been the spirit of the debate so far. I am not in a position, however, to agree to this amendment. Information is available relating to the redundancy payments that were made following the liquidation and the expertise that the Minister for the Marine will have available to him on this committee will relate to the expedition of payments. That is clear from the type of representations on the committee. This is an advisory committee, not a decision-making one. The decisions at the end of the day will rest with the Minister who will process the applications as speedily and sympathetically as possible. If we add to the membership of the committee, it could mean applications would not be processed expeditiously. However, I will relay to the Minister the concerns expressed as soon as the debate concludes.
Mr. Clohessy: A division would damage the goodwill and spirit of the Bill, so I am glad the Minister has left the door open. It is necessary to have a watchdog and some mechanism should be put in place before the Bill is finalised.
Mr. Gilmore: One of the first issues I raised in the House was the plight of former Irish Shipping employees and I welcome the legislation to deal with it. The Minister of State said he would bring the points raised to the attention of the Minister and I hope he will include my comments. It does not follow that if there is provision for a representative of, for example, Congress to be on the committee, IBEC and Uncle Tom Cobley should also be on it. The specific interest of the former employees of Irish Shipping is the only one that needs to be reflected in the composition of the committee. Membership does not need to be widened beyond that.
Mr. Bradford: The deficiency in section 4 is that there is no appeals procedure except to write back to the Minister who refused the applications. That is unsatisfactory as the court of higher appeal is the one which rejected the claim in the first instance and the Minister is judge and jury. I appreciate the Minister of State is not in a position to offer any alternative. The procedure cannot be described as effective when that is all it  involves. This section is unhelpful and should be more transparent.
Mr. O'Shea: The appeals mechanism was discussed with the Attorney General's office. A number of Departments have appeals procedures but in this instance a once off claim will be made and decided upon. The provision in the legislation is a broad one given that representations will be taken into account and considered by the Minister. I do not envisage any great difficulty but I will bring the points raised to the attention of the Minister.
Mr. Gilmore: Section 5 provides for the conviction of a person who gives false information to the Minister when applying for a lump sum. It is the first time I have seen that penalty for a person applying for a redundancy payment. What is it intended to address? The Minister said basic information on this is already in place as a result of the statutory payments made some time after the liquidation. I am a little puzzled and troubled by this. If someone is of the opinion that false information has been given, the applicant could be taken to court even though the applicant may have made a mistake or believed the information to be true.
Mr. O'Shea: I see this section in the context of dealing with claims as expeditiously as possible and in deterring people from making false claims. The section is not intended to cover genuine errors made or where it is necessary to make approximations. Processing fraudulent claims would cause delay for the 320 people who have genuine claims. Those who are charged would have to be clearly guilty of a criminal offence and guilty of presenting false information.
Mr. Gilmore: At the risk of being accused of injecting a less than harmonious note into the debate, this section is rather insulting to the former employees of Irish Shipping. These people have waited for a long time for their money and it is wrong for the Minister of State to suggest that fraudulent claims etc. might be made. Even if a person submits wrong information about years of service, the amount due to them, etc. in their application for compensation, at the end of the day the Minister will decide how much they should receive.
I do not want to go back over the history of Irish Shipping but it would have been better if previous Ministers — in fairness, I do not want to get to grips with the present Minister who is doing something about the matter — had applied themselves to dealing with the fraud in Irish Shipping which resulted in it being liquidated and the decisions taken in the company during the late seventies and early eighties. It is not proper to suggest that people who have waited ten years for their money might submit fraudulent claims.
Mr. O'Shea: This provision is in no way directed at the former employees of Irish Shipping; the contrary is the case. Because of the lapse of time, people other than former employees of Irish Shipping might try something on, so to speak, and this provision is aimed at deterring such activity. Fraudulent claims would take up an inordinate amount of administrative time and delay the processing of genuine claims by people whom we are all anxious should be paid as soon as possible.
Mr. Gilmore: On a point of clarification, the section states that where a person who is entitled to the payment of a lump sum under the Bill dies before the making of the payment the lump sum shall be paid to his or here personal representative. Does this include the former employees of Irish Shipping who died before the enactment of the legislation? I am curious about the use of the present tense in the text.
Mr. Bradford: The time spent on this debate has been very worthwhile. I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of this legislation. The Committee Stage debate has been particularly interesting and informative and I sincerely hope that the Minister of State, who addressed our concerns in so far as he was able to, will put forward our fears about sections 3 and 4 to the Minister. We are anxious to ensure that the Bill is implemented as soon as possible.
We are rectifying a problem which began in 1984. The payment of compensation to the former employees of Irish Shipping is long overdue. We were  disappointed that this money was not paid sooner but we are glad it is being paid now. I hope the Minister will see fit to take on board the minor but important changes suggested by Deputies on this side of the House.
Mr. Clohessy: I join with Deputy Bradford in congratulating the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. Though the debate was short, it dealt with all the important points. I welcome the conclusion of this ten year saga and hope that the goodwill evident in the House this morning will prevail until the matter has been finalised. I think all Deputies would agree that the matter should be concluded as soon as possible for the sake of those people who have had to wait ten years for their money.
Mr. Gilmore: I join with Deputies Bradford and Clohessy in paying tribute to the Minister on the introduction of this long overdue legislation. The liquidation of Irish Shipping is one of the great scandals in the history of this State and it is very regrettable that ten years later nobody has been brought to book for it. In recent years there has been a reluctances, particularly on the part of some sections of the public press, to carry out investigative work into the matter because of threats of legal action, etc. I hope that with the completion of this chapter the story of Irish Shipping can be written in full, that those who were responsible for the scandalous liquidation of this company will be brought to book and that lessons can be learned for the future. Over those ten years it would have been easy for the plight of its former employees to have been forgotten. Great credit is due to the former employees themselves, their families and the committee which represented them throughout those ten years who kept the issue alive, very often by visiting this House at Question Time, by participating in pickets, by writing to the Minister and Members of the House, by initiating legal action and so on. The fact that this Bill is about to be passed and at long last former employees are about to receive  payments long overdue to them is, in large measure, a tribute to their tenacity.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Foresty (Mr. O'Shea): I thank Deputies Bradford, Clohessy and Gilmore for their constructive approach to this debate and for their assistance in getting this important Bill through the House quickly. The important issue now is to get the requisite mechanism in place to receive applications, process them as speedily as possible and make these long delayed payments to the people involved.
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