Dáil Éireann - Volume 346 - 22 November, 1983

Private Notice Questions. - PMPA Group Lay-Offs.

[40] Mr. Haughey: My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism but I understand that it has been referred to the Minister for Labour. It is:

To ask the Minister for Labour if he is aware that large numbers of staff in McCairns Motors, in McBirneys and in more than a dozen PMPA garages and other companies within the PMPA Group are being laid off this week, that many of them have up to 30 years' service but that they are being laid off without any of statutory entitlements or redundancy payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Enright: My question is to ask the Minister for Labour if he is aware that staff in PMPA garages are being laid off by the administrator and that the staff concerned will not be receiving redundancy payments and other lawful moneys due to them; if he is aware that the notices of staff lay-offs take effect from Friday next, November 25, and if he will have discussions with the administrator to ensure that the staff involved are paid redundancy money.

Minister of State at the Department of Labour (Mr. G. Birmingham): My Department are not responsible for formal notification of lay-offs. Notification of lay-offs is not required under the legislation administered by my Department but if the employees are declared redundant they will be eligible for statutory redundancy payments. Should it be the case that the administrator has not got the funds to meet these payments, payments from the redundancy fund would follow. There is provision in the Redundancy Payments Acts for claiming redundancy payments when lay-offs continue beyond certain specified periods.

Regarding the other statutory entitlements of the employees, I have no information at this stage to suggest that payments will not be made. However, the Department will be in touch with Mr. Kelly for the purpose of having the situation clarified.

[41] Mr. Haughey: I regret that this question has been transferred from the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism because the administrator, who was appointed by way of legislation of this House, is presumably responsible to that Minister. Therefore, I would expect him to be in a position to know more about the situation than the junior Minister at the Department of Labour would know about it. Is the Minister aware that there is a widespread feeling among these employees who are to be laid off on Friday—and this stretches across a large number of companies—that they are to be laid off by way of what amounts to a device to deny them redundancy payments? I assure the Minister that this is a cause of very real consternation and dismay throughout the city and in many parts of the country where there are PMPA garages.

Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism (Mr. Cluskey): On a point of order, Deputy Haughey has referred to the administrator being appointed by me but I would remind him that the administrator is appointed by the court and is answerable to the court. Regarding the transfer of the question, I assure Deputy Haughey that he does not regret this as much as I regret it because I would have welcomed the opportunity of elaborating on this whole episode.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Wilson: Let the Minister answer about the double shuffle.

Mr. G. Birmingham: My own contacts with some individual employees makes me aware that there is concern among them, though I would not share the intimate knowledge of the affairs of the PMPA enjoyed by some Members of the Opposite side. However, I can assure the House that no question of a device arises in this situation. Section 11 of the 1967 Redundancy Act, which was amended by the 1971 Schedule, provides clearly that after lay-offs have continued for four [42] weeks the employees are entitled statutorily to redundancy payments.

Mr. Gene Fitzgerald: That will be after Christmas.

Mr. Enright: The Minister says that the staff involved will be entitled to payment from the Department's fund but will the administrator be in a position to make up any balance that may arise? There was some comment in the papers to the effect that some of these garages may re-open. Has the Minister any information in that regard?

Mr. G. Birmingham: My Department's involvement in this is in the context of administering the redundancy payments. At this stage nobody has been made redundant; but if people are made redundant or if some choose to exercise their rights under the 1970 Act, as amended, to claim redundancy in the first instance the question of the making of those payments would be one for the administrator. But if he should find that the funds are not available to him to make the payments, the employees concerned would be entitled to look to the redundancy fund.

Mr. Haughey: So long as the Minister can assure me that the matter will be kept under review by him and by the Department, I shall be glad to leave it at that. This is a matter that would be appropriately addressed to the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism and I resent any attempt by him to make political capital out of the situation.

Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. Cluskey: We know exactly what the Deputy is at.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Cluskey: To say the least, he contributed to the situation. We know the response Deputy O'Malley got when, as Minister, he tried to bring the seriousness and the magnitude of the PMPA situation before the Cabinet which was [43] then under the chairmanship of Deputy Haughey.

Mr. Tunney: The finger should be pointed at the Taoiseach, not at this side.

Mr. Haughey: I wish to rebut that vile insinuation from the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism.

Mr. Cluskey: If the Deputy puts down a question to me, I shall be only too glad to answer it.

Mr. Haughey: I put the question down to the Minister.

Mr. Cluskey: Because he knew it would not be allowed to me. Why not raise it on the Adjournment?

Mr. Lenihan: The Minister has lost in Dublin Central.

Mr. Haughey: I am asking the Minister to accept that I am genuinely interested in a large number of constituents who are deeply concerned about this matter. I am asking him, too, to bring to the attention of the appropriate Minister, whoever that may be, and of the Government that there is also serious concern being expressed by the employees in this organisation as to the level of the administration that has been established by Mr. Kelly and that there are suggestions that an excessive number of staff are being employed by him.

An Ceann Comhairle: This is widening the scope of the question.

Mr. Haughey: I am dealing with the question of the resources not being available to pay redundancy payments and pensions, because pensions too are involved in respect of many of these people who have had up to 30 years service.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair would not consider it reasonable to have a wide discussion on the PMPA.

[44] Mr. Haughey: I should like an assurance from the Minister that he will bring the matters I have raised to the attention of the appropriate Minister and I emphasise the concern there is regarding the number being employed by the administrator. Many people fear that the cost of that staff will eat substantially into the funds available to pay PMPA staff the moneys to which they are entitled.

The Taoiseach: It is a matter for the courts.

Mr. G. Birmingham: I share the concern of my constituency colleague for those of my constituents who are affected by this issue. I am sure they, too, would have wished that the concern expressed by Deputy O'Malley some years ago was taken more seriously. As to the question of the level of staffing and the cost involved, that is a matter that will come ultimately before the courts and which will be monitored by the courts and approved by them.

Deputy Foley rose.

An Ceann Comhairle: Before Deputy Foley commences, I wish to make it clear that we cannot have a discussion on the whole question of the administration and operation of the PMPA.

Mr. Haughey: On a point of order, I wish to draw attention to the fact that the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism has made an allegation against me in the course of this question and answer session to which I think I am entitled to reply.

Mr. Cluskey: Provided I am entitled to elaborate.

Mr. Wilson: The Deputy does not give a tinker's curse about the whole matter.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please. The Chair would appeal to Deputies on both sides not to engage in acrimonious debate across the floor.

[45] Mr. Wilson: The workers concerned will take careful note of what is said.

Mr. Haughey: I did not introduce any note of acrimony.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not for the Chair to say who introduced this acrimony.

Mr. Haughey: I am dealing as courteously as I can with my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Labour, and I am grateful to him for the information he has given me. I want him to be fully aware of the situation which is causing anxiety and concern throughout this city and country.

I want to say, in reply to what the Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism said, that Deputy O'Malley as the Minister concerned had the full cooperation of my Government in anything he tried to do, and I will have Deputy O'Malley come in here and confirm that.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling the next question in the name of Deputy Brendan Daly.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please. It is now 4 o'clock. These questions deal with specific matters which have been answered and do not form a forum for a discussion on the present trading or operation of the PMPA which as of now, is a matter between the administrator and the courts.

Mr. Haughey: The Minister has not answered my last question about the cost of administration.

Mr. Enright: I had a question to ask——

Mr. Wilson: The Deputy had two already.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: I know from [46] reading the newspapers that there are 17 towns involved, and probably 17 constituencies. On a Private Notice Question which has been dealt with and answered in a responsible way——

Mr. Wilson: It was not answered in a responsible way. There were snide remarks——

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Wilson, please. On a Private Notice Question which has been dealt with in a responsible way, and answered in a responsible way, it is not reasonable that we should now seek to bring in 17 other supplementary questions. I propose that we move to the next question.

Mr. Power: I met constituents last night and they asked me to raise this question. I got up to raise it and to ask my supplementary questions which should be answered. I want to ask those questions now.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Power, I know, would wish to——

Mr. Power: I have never done this before but I mean to ask these questions, although I have doubts about getting answers. I have the right to ask those questions and you should not deny me that right.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sure Deputy Power wishes to comply with Standing Orders and rules. There are other avenues open to him to deal with this matter in a more extensive way.

Mr. Power: The key will turn in that lock next Friday and there will be no avenues open to those people who are out of jobs.

An Ceann Comhairle: This day is not out yet.

Mr. Power: The Minister, Deputy Cluskey, invented a Frankenstein which is not answerable to this House. We have a duty to see that answers are given in this House.

[47] An Ceann Comhairle: I am moving to the next question.

Mr. Power: You are denying me the opportunity to put these questions. We want to know what selectivity was used to deny these people jobs. What research was done to see if these garages were viable?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is opening up a discussion on the whole subject.

Mr. Power: These questions must be asked.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please.

Mr. Power: The person responsible should answer these questions because people's livelihood are being taken from them. We are here to represent these people and we should be allowed to ask these questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Would Deputy Power please resume his seat? Standing Orders confer on the Chair a discretion in regard to the nature and numbers of supplementary questions that may be answered. Having regard to this question, I am ruling that further supplementary questions would not be appropriate and if the matter is to be dealt with further, there are other avenues which may be explored. I earnestly and respectfully ask the House to deal with this matter in that way. I am calling on Deputy Daly.

Mr. N. Treacy: I wish to take the Minister's invitation to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will communicate with the Deputy.

Mr. Power: Will the Chair let me know if the avenues you have mentioned can be effectively operated before Friday?

[48] An Ceann Comhairle: I refer the Deputy to the book of Standing Orders.

Mr. Power: I can only say that I am totally dissatisfied with your attitude.

Mr. Tunney: I apprecitate the Chair's extreme difficulty in this area, but if we are talking about Standing Orders, the Chair was in breach of Standing Orders when he allowed the Minister to make a point of information. That was completely wrong.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister rose on a point of order.

Mr. Tunney: He is not entitled to do that on a matter like this. You allowed him to intimidate you as he tried to intimidate others.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Deputy Brendan Daly.