Former Tipperary Hostel workers win right to redundancy payments

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

Twenty former Tipperary Hostel workers won their claim for redundancy at an Employment Appeals Tribunal on Monday and have criticised Tipperary Hostel Ltd for the year and a half long wait they have endured to secure this entitlement.

The former Jobs Initiative Scheme workers and their union SIPTU welcomed the outcome of the two-hour Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) hearing at the Clonmel Park Hotel where Tipperary Hostel Ltd gave an undertaking to apply to the Social Insurance Fund for statutory redundancy payments for the workers.

The former JIS workers have been unemployed since May last year when the Tipperary Hostel project to transform Tipperary Town’s Famine era workhouse into a hostel closed down after the withdrawal of funding by government funding body Pobal amid controversy. A Garda investigation is ongoing into the use of false invoices to claim nearly E60,000 from Pobal.

Tipperary Hostel Ltd decided not to contest the claim under the Redundancy Payments Act after the four-man EAT, chaired by Leachlainn O’Cathain, ruled that the limited company rather than FAS, which funded the workers wages, had been the employer of the JIS workers.

Solicitor Colm Morrissey, representing Tippereary Hostel Ltd., told the Tribunal there was agreement between both sides that the RP50 application forms for redundancy would be signed for all bar two of the former Tipperary Hostel workers, who had already received their statutory redundancy. He gave an assurance that the forms would be sent away as “soon as possible.”

He said his clients wished to thank the workers for their efforts and dedication over the years.

“There was great work done on the project and obviously they are very disappointed that the project was shelved because it was a great project for Tipperary Town. At all times they (Tipperary Hostel Ltd) were operating under the direction of FAS and did believe it wasn’t a redundancy situation and following the decision today they are more than willing to sign.”

Earlier Mr Morrissey told the tribunal that the Tipperary Hostel Ltd was going to delist as a company.

Tipperary Hostel Board of Management member Anthony Flynn said they wished the workers the best and were sorry that it came to this.

Responding on behalf of his former colleagues, Michael O’Dwyer, who was a SIPTU shop steward while employed on the Tipperary Hostel Project, said: “Thanks for nothing and I tell you why. We went to a meeting with you on June 4 last year and you told us that you were sending away the RP50 forms. I only want to ask you one question. What changed in that 16 months?

After the hearing, Mr O’Dwyer said he was delighted with the outcome of the EAT but he felt they were very badly treated by the Board of Tipperary Hostel, who could have saved them having to wait so long to secure their entitlement to redundancy by sending away the RP50 forms 16 months ago.

EAT Chairman Leachlain O’Cathain, however, said the tribunal accepted the bone fides of Tipperary Hostel Ltd and that this Employment Appeals case arose on a point of law in relation to the workers employment situation rather than the company trying to get out of anything.

In the arguments put by FAS and Tipperary Hostel Ltd at the hearing on the issue of who was the workers employer, Mr Morrissey said at all times Tipperary Hostel Ltd relied on the directions of FAS and was told by FAS it wasn’t a redundancy situation due to the nature of the Jobs Initiative Scheme and the fact that all the wokers were offered transfers to other schemes, which they refused.

But SIPTU official Gerard Kennedy submitted it was a redundancy situation and he argued that under legislation the transfer of employment had to be done with the agreement of the workers involved; the outgoing employer must issue then with written conditions of employment and the prospective employer must accept those terms and conditions.

He submitted that none of these things happened in this case.

Barrister Marcus Dowling BL, representing FAS, argued that it wasn’t a redundancy situation because this was a “labour market intervention” project funded by two State agencies providing training facilities to people working on it. When Tipperary Hostel Ltd was no longer able to continue, FAS arranged for the workers to be placed in other jobs elsewhere under the same terms and conditions.

He said the workers received detailed letters from FAS identifying jobs and specifying their rights were to be preserved. But when the scheme was wound up they were advised by their trade union that they didn’t have to take up the alternative jobs and that they should instead “cash in” and claim redundancy. EAT member Gerry Andrews disputed FAS’ assertion that the Tipperary Hostel JIS was simply a training programme as there were people on the scheme for up to 10 years. “Sure brain surgeons would be...,” he said. The hearing heard that when renovation works were not taking place at the former workhouse the JIS workers were redeployed to work on other FAS projects in the Tipperary area.

After the hearing Gerard Kennedy explained that the Tipperary Hostel workers didn’t take up the alternative jobs offered by FAS because at the time FAS were cutting the number of Community Employment Scheme places in Tipperary by 300 and they feared they would be displacing existing CE workers. “They weren’t prepared to do that. Our members didn’t want to walk into someone else’s jobs.”

Mr Kennedy said the union’s work on behalf of the former Tipperary Hostel workers was only half a job and the focus will now turn on securing an enhanced redundancy package for them.

He said the workers 16 month long wait to secure the right for statutory redundancy would have happened if FAS hadn’t interfered with respect to the employment contracts of his union’s members and he believed the agency should be ashamed of itself.

Fine Gael Cllr Mary Hanna Hourigan, who attended the EAT to support the former Tipperary Hostel workers, has welcomed the outcome. “I think justice has been served. They were perfectly in their rights to look for redundancy and it’s a shame they had to wait 16 months. I think the focus now should be to get the hostel finished. The building is like a white elephant in Tipperary.”