The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called for a legal moratorium on employers implementing compulsory redundancies for workers. 

The call comes as the government today extended the ban on laid off workers exercising their legal right to claim statutory redundancy from an employer unable to guarantee them work.

Congress General Secretary Patricia King said it was "anomalous and unfair" that workers were now required to accept long periods of layoff, while employers remained free to impose redundancy on employees. 

Until the pandemic emergency arose, workers who were laid off for more than four weeks had the legal right to demand statutory redundancy from their employer in certain circumstances.  

However, earlier this year, with hundreds of thousands of workers facing lay-off as the economy was shut down, the government feared that many would exercise their right to convert lay-off to redundancy - and that the obligation to pay redundancy lump sums could push some firms into liquidation.

It could also have placed  enormous strain on the state Social Insurance Fund which picks up the tab for redundancy payments when employers cannot. 

To avoid this scenario, the Covid-19 emergency legislation suspended the right of laid-off employees to exercise their right to demand redundancy - with the ban due to expire this Sunday, May 31.

Today the Cabinet extended the ban until August 10, when the final phase of the re-opening of businesses commences.  

The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty said that the suspension of these provisions had been considered vital to ensure the future viability of businesses and to help prevent further job losses. 

She said that given the ongoing Covid-19 emergency, "serious risks to business and jobs remain."

"If we did not extend the end date further, redundancies could occur in the very near future which will burden employers with further debt and have a serious impact on the potential for a business to recover.  This in turn increases the risk of insolvency and bankruptcy situations which will only exacerbate the risk of further permanent job losses," said the Minister.

She stressed that the employee's right to claim redundancy has not been removed, but "deferred" for the emergency period in circumstances of temporary lay-off or short-time employment.

However, in an interview with the specialist journal "Industrial Relations News",  ICTU General Secretary Patricia King  confirmed she had told the government that the right to activate statutory redundancy after four weeks delivers an "important safeguard" against employers who might try to suspend employment for a long time, while denying the employee redundancy payments. 

She said the safeguard had been suspended "in a manner that has failed to maintain an appropriate balance between the interests of workers and employers". 

She said it was "anomalous and unfair" that workers were now required to accept long periods of layoff, while employers remained free to impose redundancy on employees. 

Ms King told the government that Congress strongly believed that if the current suspension of employees' right to activate redundancy is extended, "it must be on the basis that layoff becomes the only permissible means of dealing with the economic impact of the current emergency on employment."

She continued: "Accordingly, a complete moratorium must be placed on the facility for employers to dismiss workers on grounds of redundancy during the period in which section 12 of the 1967 Act remains suspended.".

Under the Covid-19 emergency legislation in order the suspend the workers' right to activate redundancy, the government must have regard to a number of factors, including the need to  "to mitigate the increased risk of insolvencies in the event of a substantial number of redundancies occurring over a short time period resulting in permanent job losses".

Previously the state gave a 60% rebate to employers on statutory redundancy payments, but the rebate was abolished during the economic crash.