Laid-off egg plant workers secure redundancy payments

Employees had to go to court to reverse liquidation of employer

Three laid-off egg plant workers who secured a court order to reverse the liquidation of their former employer are set to receive their redundancy pay two years after the Workplace Relations Commission had to originally reject their cases.

Three laid-off egg plant workers who secured a court order to reverse the liquidation of their former employer are set to receive their redundancy pay two years after the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) had to originally reject their cases.

“For all the effort you put in, well done,” adjudicating officer Catherine Byrne told the three complainants.

The WRC has upheld complaints by Ronan McGrath, Brendan Eifert and Mark Hughes under the Redundancy Payments Act against Galway Free Range Eggs Ltd.

Two years ago, the Commission informed the men their claims could not go forward for adjudication because the company had been dissolved.

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Claims

No representative of the firm appeared at a hearing into the men’s claims last Tuesday, having sought in advance correspondence to have the matter adjourned for a second time.

Adjudicating officer Catherine Byrne said she was satisfied the directors of the firm were on notice and decided to hear the men’s complaints.

The commission was told that Mr McGrath, the manager of the company’s egg packing plant in Cregmore, Co Galway, was among five staff present at a meeting in December 2019 when director Kevin Towey informed them the company was experiencing financial difficulties.

His employment ended the following February and Mr Towey signed an RP50 form for him so that he could claim redundancy.

Mr Eifert and Mr Hughes, who were both delivery drivers for the company, were only told about the company’s difficulties by phone on 20th, March 2020.

In letters to the men, Mr Towey wrote that the firm was “struggling” and had been “forced to lay you off” but that he could not say how long that would last.

The three men took their company vans back to the company’s facility in Cregmore, Co Galway that day and left them there, they told the commission.

Mr Hughes said he’d had no contact from Mr Towey until two weeks later when he asked him to go to Co Monaghan and deliver eggs to his new depot.

“He paid me for that day and that was it,” he said, adding that Mr Towey told him he’d get in touch about his redundancy but that he heard nothing more.

Mr McGrath told the commission that two more drivers and four general operatives were affected by the closure of the egg packing plant, along with himself.

“He literally moved all that operation over to [another company] to pack eggs into his cartons,” he added.

Decision

“When Mr Towey signed the RP50s the company was dissolved so they were invalid. He actively encouraged them to make claims .” Ms Glynn said.

“Only when the WRC wrote back and said the company was dissolved did they find out,” she added.

In order to progress the claim, the men applied to Dublin Circuit Court in February 2020 to have Galway Free Range Eggs restored to the Register of Companies.

The matter was heard in April 2021, with the directors failing to appear.

“The company shall be deemed to have continued in existence as if it had not been struck off,” the court order read.

In decisions issued to the men yesterday, Ms Byrne ruled that the striking-off of the company and the challenge of having the firm restored was “reasonable cause” for the late submission of their complaints after the usual 12-month period from the date of termination.

She said it was clear that their employer had ceased operations at their place of employment and failed to offer alternative work - and their jobs were therefore redundant.

Ms Byrne said they were each entitled to a redundancy lump sum, following confirmation of their PRSI status.

Mr McGrath, the egg plant manager, had over 19 years’ service, while Mr Hughes had been with the firm nearly 17 years and Mr Eifert for 12.

The men’s rates of pay were not opened in evidence to the public hearing last week, but it’s understood the largest of the three lump sums would be valued in excess of €20,000.