The Green Party will be strongly supporting this bill, the Employment Relations (Statutory Minimum Redundancy Entitlements) Amendment Bill. If it passes, and I hope that it does, it will correct a major injustice for workers in this country: being laid off without any redundancy. I think that a problem was conceded by David Bennett when he said that the problem with this bill is that employers will stick to the minimum rather than giving more redundancy. But the problem that we have is not that employers may stick to some legislative minimum that does not exist, the problem is that they do not give any redundancy at all in many cases.
We have a recent statement from the National Distribution Union referring to a dozen workers who were laid off by the T.A. MacAllister company without any redundancy at all, because of a downturn in business. Warehouse supervisor Rob Highsted, who was laid off, said: “I feel bitter. The warehouse in this company has been my baby – I was proud at how well I made it work, then they just say ‘piss off.’ Its 20 years of my life down the toilet.”
Mr Highsted said that another couple with 40 years’ service between them had also been shown the door without so much as a thankyou from the company. That is the problem that we face, and that is why it is important to have a minimum of 4 weeks’ notice, 4 weeks’ remuneration after 1 year and 2 weeks’ additional remuneration up to 26 weeks’ remuneration. That is consistent both with long-standing Green Party policy but also the report that has been pointed out of the Public Advisory Committee to the Minister of Labour on Restructuring and Redundancy.
I ask members why we have redundancy. One point is that it is recognition by the employer, who has benefited from the labour of workers often over many years, as in the case I mentioned, of the value of that work. It is saying “here, have something. Unfortunately, we have to make you redundant.” Secondly, it is to reduce the suffering that workers face when they are laid off. The unemployment benefit is not in itself sufficient, and there is a qualifying period as well.
This is important particularly now when couples who work are mortgaged up to the hilt. If one person in that couple loses his or her job, they cannot afford to pay the mortgage, the house goes down the tube—all kinds of things happen. There is huge suffering if people do not have that continuity of income while they look for another job. The third point is that it gives a breathing space to find another job—not just another job, but a job in one’s specialist area, if at all possible. It gives the time to look around to get an appropriate job.
Often the problem is that workers are very highly specialised. They are geared to one job and it takes a while either to train for something else or to look around for something equivalent. I myself was made redundant when I was working at the Gear meatworks in 1981 and it closed down. We got some redundancy pay but I know that it was very difficult for many of the workers there who were highly specialised knife hands and who had spent decades as knife hands. Many of them got very depressed and their families got depressed because they did not have other work in their specialist area.
That relates to another thing in the Public Adviser Group’s report: the need to give plenty of notice. In this bill 4 weeks’ notice of redundancy is required but there is also the need to look a bit further out. If something is happening to the industry, if some change is going on and there might be redundancies, there is a need to have a whole transition to new employment. That is why it is important to have adult education and not to cut night classes, which are often a way of transition to a new job. Unfortunately this Government has cut night classes.
We want to be able to ratify International Labour Organization convention 158 and it is important that we pass measures like this so that we can do that; we do not want to be in breach of international conventions. The question is not that somehow workers will suffer through redundancy payments undermining full time employment, as David Bennett claims. In fact, I think redundancy provisions are a deterrent against employers laying off people; it adds that little bit of restraint, which is good. The idea that redundancy provisions stop employers from employing people is a bit silly too. How many employers think that in 3 years they might have to lay off employers and pay them 8 weeks’ redundancy and therefore they will not employ them? That is not the way things are going to play out.