SIPTU, the union which represents more than 125,000 employees in the private sector, said it is coming across cases on an almost daily basis of people being let go “out of sequence”. Until now, there had been a tradition between trade unions and employer bodies under the social partnership ethos that the last-in, first-out principle would be applied but with the collapse of social partnership that appears to have been abandoned. “The ‘last-in, first-out’ principle is being set aside by an awful lot of employers,” said SIPTU national industrial organiser, Gerry McCormack.
“What they do is make people redundant but will only pay them statutory redundancy if they say they are taking a case to the tribunal for unfair selection and won’t pay them any ex-gratia. They will tell the staff ‘you can go off and make a claim for unfair selection at a tribunal if you wish, but in the meantime statutory is all you are going to get’.
“So it is forcing people to take redundancy and dismissing them even though they don’t want to go. That is happening right across the private sector.”
He pointed to the Marine Terminals dispute which earlier this year sparked a strike in Dublin Port. In that case, Marine Terminals workers claimed the owner of the company, Peel Ports, was trying to replace the existing workforce with lower-paid, non-unionised employees.
“They wanted to take people out of sequence as it suited themselves.
“We have run into it in practically every workplace where there have been redundancies. If you want to take 40 to 50 employees out of a big company, you can just choose those you want.” He said the modus operandi previously was that there would be a voluntary redundancy programme in which the employees put their names forward and the company picked who they wished.
“They have moved away from the voluntary packages which were... made available in early 2009. At the end of 2009 what was happening was that a wave of first redundancies had taken place which were easy because they were people who were near retirement or were happy enough but the next wave was more difficult because people were not willing to go and compulsory redundancies were coming into the equation,” said Mr McCormack. “Now we are at the new phase of restructuring in that they want to take out who they wish regardless of service.”
He said the unfair selection legislation is reactive. The employer dismisses the worker who then must go to a tribunal and show they were unfairly selected for redundancy.
“The gun to the head is that if the worker does not take final settlement [at time of being made redundant] with the ex gratia payment the company is offering, the employer will say ‘go ahead and take action for unfair selection, but in any event the amount you will get will be less than what we are giving you with the ex gratia amount and at the end of the day you will be gone anyway and we will only give you statutory’.
“Financially people are saying they have to take it because it is a lump of money which stops them having to risk going to a tribunal.”