Hostel workers angry at FAS’s stance over redundancy payments

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

The case of 21 former Tipperary Hostel workers seeking the right to redundancy payments will come before an Employment Appeals Tribunal in Clonmel on Monday, November 14.

The case that will be heard in the Clonmel Park Hotel is being brought by the trade union SIPTU on behalf of the former FAS Jobs Initiative Scheme workers arising from the closure of the project in May last year, which resulted in 23 workers losing their jobs. It is being taken against FAS, which funded the workers wages and training the Tipperary Hostel Limited, which was their official employer.

The former JIS workers have waited nearly 18 months for this hearing, which has been delayed so long due to the backlog of cases coming before the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

A separate application the workers have made to the Labour Relations Commission for enhanced redundancy payments above the statutory rate can’t be dealt with until the Employment Appeals Tribunal case is over.

SIPTU official Gerard Kennedy, who is representing the workers, said FAS has behaved “absolutely abysmally” towards the former Tipperary Hostel JIS employees, some of whom worked on the restoration of the Famine era building for up to 10 years.

He has called on the agency to do the right thing ahead of the Tribunal hearing and grant the workers their redundancy.

“The position remains that at a stroke of a pen FAS can resolve this matter,” said Mr Kennedy, whose union has successfully secured redundancy for other former JIS workers in several cases around the country.

Tipperary Town councillors Billy Bourke and Denis Leahy and Labour MEP Phil Prendergast have also called on FAS to pay the former JIS workers redundancy and described FAS’ treatment of them as very unfair, shabby and very bad.

The JIS workers point out that they were initially offered voluntary redundancy. The written notice of termination of employment they received from the Tipperary Hostel Board in May last year stated that the Board was in negotiation with FAS regarding their redundancy and the workers even received individual calculations of their statutory redundancy entitlements.

And a few weeks later FAS told them it was not a redundancy situation and instead they were to receive offers to transfer to FAS Community Employment Schemes.

FAS maintains the former JIS workers aren’t entitled to redundancy because the Jobs Initiative Programme operates over a number of different Community Employment Schemes and alternative employment with another community employer in Tipperary was offered for each of them upon the closure of the project. Only one employee took up the offer.

Tipperary Hostel Board of Management Chairman Jim O’Shea agrees with FAS’s stance. “The scheme was such that the workers wouldn’t be entitled to redundancy. That was known first day. They got the choice of alternative work and alternative positions. They didn’t accept them and they would have had a job for life,” he said.

But the workers and SIPTU say the offers were not offers of real alternative employment. The CE jobs simply weren’t there because FAS were making substantial cutbacks in Community Employment Schemes in the Tipperary area at the time. The workers were also concerned that by taking up the offers they would be displacing other CE workers.

Some of the JIS workers, for example, were offered places at the Canon Hayes Sports Centre in Tipperary but rejected the offers because of concerns about displacing other workers as the number of CE places was cut at the centre earlier in 2010 and there were also voluntary redundancies. Both FAS and the Canon Hayes Centre denied that JIS workers would have been used to displace other workers at the sports centre.

None of the 21 former Tipperary Hostel workers seeking redundancy have been able to find alternative jobs since the hostel project closed last year. Former JIS worker Ian Dawson, who has a young family of three children, said he had gone from earning a living wage to finding it difficult to provide for his family on €232 dole a week.

“What people don’t realise is the guilt I feel when one of my children ask me if I can buy them a CD. I can’t educate and feed them properly. That is the reality of being unemployed and having been cheated out of a living,” he said.

Michael Ward, who worked on the JIS for nearly nine years, said he felt South Tipperary’s TDs haven’t done much to hold FAS and Tipperary Hostel Limited to account over the way they have treated them since the hostel project closed or on why the project had to close and why it couldn’t continue.

“The question I have for the public representatives is what is the point of voting for you if you can’t hold people like FAS to account. They didn’t even stand up and mention it in the Dail, which is supposed to be the people’s forum. I am totally disappointed.”