A group of construction workers who lost their jobs in the collapse of construction giant Roadbridge earlier this year are seeking an order to have their UK severance pay brought up to the rates of Irish statutory redundancy.
Nine former employees represented by trade union Siptu, including former managers and foremen at the civil engineering and construction group founded by late Limerick businessman Pat Mulcair, have taken claims under the Redundancy Payments Act 1967 and the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Act 1973.
It’s understood the total value of the claims is in the region of €200,000.
Neither the firm nor its liquidators were represented at an adjudication hearing on Tuesday at the Workplace Relations Commission headquarters in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. The matter went ahead in their absence, hearing evidence from five of the workers: Thomas Smith, Donal Ruane, Michael Dolan, Hugh Byrne and Stephen O’Boyle.
‘It’s about value for money. So, people feel that when they come in, they’re being charged reasonable prices’
Deirdre Canty of Siptu, who appeared for the workers, said they were originally employed by the group’s Irish operation, Roadbridge Ireland Ltd, and were flown to and from Britain by their employer for work each week in the years prior to the pandemic.
The workers who gave evidence said they had over a decade’s service each, with some of them having started with the company as far back as the early 1990s.
“During Covid and around that time, work was very slack in Ireland. The workers transferred to the UK and continued to pay PRSI in Ireland and tax in the UK,” she said, adding that they “brought their service with them”.
Transfers to the UK arm of the company took place on various dates between 2018 and April 2021, with all the workers having the same termination date of March 28th, 2022, when a month’s pay in lieu of notice was given, she said.
Ms Canty said redundancy payments had been made to the workers at British rates, leaving them with a “much smaller” entitlement than under the Irish system.
In Britain, redundant workers are entitled to 1.5 weeks’ pay for a year of service aged 40 and over; one week’s pay for years worked between the ages of 22 and 40, and half a week for a year worked under age 22. The British scheme is capped at 20 years’ service and is subject to a weekly pay cap of stg£571 (€664).
The Irish statutory redundancy scheme pays two weeks per year of service, plus one further week’s service, with a €600 cap and no limit to the years of service which can be used to calculate the entitlement.
Stephen O’Boyle, one of the workers who gave evidence, said he had 10 years and 8 months of service, and had received £5,710 (€6,295) in statutory redundancy, but that he would have been entitled to €13,400 under the Irish system. Ms Canty argued that in the circumstances, the Redundancy Payments Act entitled the workers to receive a payment in respect of the shortfall.
Adjudicating officer Pat Brady said he had “never come across” such a situation and that he would have to take legal advice.
“Tell me, what has Roadbridge said to you? We used to have a similar [statutory redundancy] system, one week before [age] 40 and two weeks after – that was abolished. Apart from the obvious, saving money, why will they not appear?” he asked.
“Roadbridge have not entertained anything with us. We’ve been dealing with receivers. The receiver has confirmed there are no assets to pay anything,” Ms Canty said.
It was the union’s position that to progress matters any further for the workers and to claim from the State’s social insurance fund, the Department of Social Protection needed an order from the WRC.
Ms Canty opened a letter issued by the company to the staff stating that the transfer to the UK “did not negatively impact their terms of employment” and that their service with the group was “unbroken”.
“You sound more like international soccer players being transferred on protected conditions. That just reflects the work you do,” Mr Brady told the group of workers.