Fine Gael councillor tells WRC his redundancy was a ‘sham’ after falling-out with owner

Edward Timmins alleges personal relationship with employer deteriorated after attempt to address issue around payments at struggling packaging business

A Fine Gael county councillor has said that his redundancy from a €108k-per-year finance director role with a packaging firm was a “sham” driven by a falling-out with the owner over cash withdrawals from the company.

Edward Timmins, a chartered accountant and a councillor representing the Baltinglass Municipal District of Co Wicklow, has complained under the Unfair Dismissals Act against AB Group Packaging Ireland Ltd of Blessington, Co Wicklow.

The company denies the claim and says Mr Timmins’ role was redundant because it needed to streamline its operations after the collapse of its US operation in 2017.

Mr Timmins gave evidence to the Workplace Relations Commission on Friday as the case went into its fourth and final day.

He said AB Packaging’s failure in America had a “dreadful effect” that left it in a struggle for survival in 2017. “It was just doing deals with suppliers, going from hand to mouth, getting forbearance from banks,” he said.

There was a pay freeze for staff on the factory floor, a 10 per cent cut for him and the other directors, and a 20 per cent cut for AB Group Packaging owner Dermot Brady, he said.

€50,000 per month

However, Mr Timmins said the owner “effectively took no pay cut” because of the continuing withdrawals of cash from the business.

His legal team submitted that Mr Brady was effectively in receipt of €50,000 per month instead of €32,000 at a time when some suppliers “had not been paid for months”.

Mr Timmins said that as a chartered accountant he had a duty to ensure the company “dealt with its financial matters properly”.

He put a warning in writing to Mr Brady, and gave an instruction to the payroll department to deduct money from Mr Brady’s monthly payments in respect of sums being spent on a company credit card, he said – but was overruled.

Mr Brady’s evidence was that there was “no issue” with the running of the firm and that he had “every right” to withdraw funds as its sole shareholder.

Mr Timmins said he ultimately rejected a €92,250 severance deal he and Mr Brady had drawn up because his boss wanted to change the proposed payment schedule.

“We both recognised there was a clash which I can trace back to me coming to him to tell him to stop taking money out of the company,” he said.

Financial position

Mr Brady’s barrister, Mary-Paula Guinness, said the company’s position was that the redundancy of the finance director role did not rest solely on the financial position of the company, but was also tied to efforts to reduce costs and increase profits by reducing the management team.

AB Group Packaging Ltd’s former chairman, Tony Richie, and operations manager, Gabriel McCabe, also appeared as witnesses on Friday.

Mr McCabe said he was aware of “conflict” between Mr Timmins and the owner over the ongoing cash withdrawals from the business.

The company’s position was that there were no “interpersonal difficulties” between Mr Timmins and Mr Brady and that the complainant never made a complaint to that effect during his employment.

Ms McGuinness challenged Mr Timmins over the scale of his €312,000 claim and what she alleged was his failure to mitigate his losses.

Mr Timmins said he had applied for both full-time and part-time jobs at finance director level, some at a more junior level and had signed up with a firm offering business consultants on a project basis.

Closing the hearing, adjudicating officer Jim Dolan granted two weeks for Ms Guinness to make legal submissions and two weeks for responses from Ms Kennedy, and said he would prepare his after that.