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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 4, 2009 @ 6:43 pm

    Thomas Cook serves up half-baked redundancy plan

    Harry McGee

    I have been away because of a family bereavement but returned this weekend to find evidence of a new militant mood out there.

    The farmers have been out in force for weeks – there was another protest in Donegal today. A couple of weeks ago they gatecrashed a road-opening in Ballinasloe attended by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and let vent to some spleen and some incendiary comments. The farmers are complaining about the phasing out of the rural environmental protection scheme (REPS). It is a flawed scheme but there is no denying their anger. The problem that farmers have is after their hot-and-cold shenanigans in the run-up to the Lisbon Treaty last year, mass protests won’t buy them much political favour in the run-up to the second referendum. And ominously for the leadership, a few No to Lisbon placards have begun to appear at protests – a sign that some within the farming community may use the second treaty as another referendum on Government policy and performance.

    The second example is the dispute between the pharmacists and the Government which has become a major propaganda war, with claims of intimidation coming from one side; and of incorrect prescribing coming from the other. The Government and the Minister for Health Mary Harney seem to be hanging tough. They don’t have a choice. If they concede like governments did to lobby and interest groups in the 1980s, the austerity programme will have no credibility. But both of these disputes give a taste of what we can expect in the autumn.

    However, the dispute that really harks back to other times is the occupaton of its Grafton Street premises by the Thomas Cook employees that was ended by gardai at 5 o’clock this morning.  It reminded me of the lock-in at the Irish Press (where I worked) in 1995 and of all the occupations of the 1980s, most famously that of the Clondalkin Paper Mills.

    You could not but feel sorry for the 40 or so employees forced to take the desperate measure, including a heavily pregnant woman (who actually gave birth today). Here was the chief executive of the travel company in the UK raking in a salary of several millions pounds last year while it was offering only five weeks per year to the workers made redundant in Dublin.  And to compound their woes, the employees were all arrested this morning for contempt of a court order.

    It seems such an unfair world.

    To paraphrase the old English working-class doggerel: It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure; it’s the poor wot gets the blame.

    Among those arrested this morning was Richard Boyd-Barrett of People Before Profit (aka the Socialist Workers Party). That to me was significant. One of the big trends over the next couple of years will be the rise of the radical left, spearheaded (separately) by Boyd-Barrett and by Joe Higgins.

    That is no bad thing. The disease of consensus politics has afflicted all the opposition parties in the Dáil. We need new ideas and a new radicalism.

    • Liam says:

      god help us if the SWP is the answer. There are many people being laid off and are only getting statutory redundancy. I cant say I felt much sympathy for the sit in.

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      In fairness, it sounded like they were being offered a reasonable enough redundancy package which was definitely a good bit more than the legal minimum.

      And aside from their beef with Thomas Cook, they deliberately defied a court order.

      What’s depressing about the Thomas Cook employees and the IPU (who are just gangsters) is the rush to the nuclear option. No phased escalation of dispute – just push the red button straight away. If all groups behave like this in the next few months we are all deep in the doo-doo.

    • Diarmuid says:

      Wait a second?

      “You could not but feel sorry for the 40 or so employees forced to take the desperate measure, including a heavily pregnant woman (who actually gave birth today).”

      Sorry but no. They were offered a great redundancy package, about as good as any company has given outside of some very few hi tech companies, from a company that has been losing money each year for years.

      After the negative publicity they have put TC through I would have no problem now offering them statutory redundancy.

    • Laura says:

      Only five weeks per year? The statutory redundancy payment is two weeks per year. These workers conducted an illegal sit in, defied a court order, and should count themselves lucky that they aren’t in jail and that Thomas Cook isn’t withdrawing five weeks and only paying statutory redundancy. It is lunacy that these greedy workers consider five weeks to be an insult. As for RBB, what was he doing there? I thought he was busy saving the seafront? I hope that companies who offer decent enough packages withdraw them in the face of illegal sit-ins. It might dampen down the public predilection for disputing a company’s right to make its workers redundant and to close an office if it sees fit to do so.

    • Michael O'Brien says:

      I have to disagree with the above two comments which display a real lack of understanding of the dynamics of industrial relations.

      In the case of Thomas Cook the company recorded a €4 million profit in Ireland and €400 million worldwide last year. Their chief executive received a raise of 34%, bringing his salary up to €7 million.

      The company initially indicated the closure of their Irish operation would take place on 6th September and they offered 5 weeks per year service. The TSSA sought 8 weeks. In the context of the figures I mentioned above both sums are a drop in the ocean.

      The company then sent two managers over from England last Friday and announced at an hour’s notice that the company was closing with immediate effect. This was done to cut the feet from under the union’s efforts to secure a better deal.

      So it is clear to me that if we are going to talk in terms of the main source of aggression, blame rests with the company. Occupation and defiance of the injunction was a legitimate response, a last throw of the dice to gain some leverage over the company.

      The fact that other (predominantly non-unionised) workers have to put up with the bare statutory has no relevance to this dispute. In fact it poses the need for greater trade union organisation in the private sector.

    • Proposition Joe says:

      Since when does 5 weeks per year of service qualify for the adjective “only”? Its actually on the generous side as redundancies go.

      Only Aer Lingus employees and the likes get ultra-generous severance deals such as 9 weeks per year. And this was largely due to their political clout and status as quasi-public sector workers. In the real economy, 5 weeks is not to be sneezed at, as many workers get far less.

      Now I happen to like Richard Boyd Barrett, and admire his work in the local constituency, but really his involvement in this issue reeks of unadulterated opportunism.

    • Jac Shanahan says:

      It would be wise to take the time to see beyond the quick HSE soundbyte. Pharmacists have been placed in an impossible position of a 34% pay-cut, take it or quit. This is on top of the loss of income that all retail businesses are going through because of the recession. No possibility of negotiation or mediation – prohibited by law and Competition aAthority. Regardless of the money, we should all fear the precedent this sets

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I’m glad that some Irish people are finally getting angry. It’s about time. Let’s not forget that this mess did not happen by accident – it was caused deliberately and it could have been avoided.

      I’m a Fine Gael supporter and it is amazing to me that not a single banker or developer has gone to jail or lost their family home or been held to account for their debts and role in this mess in the same way mere ‘ordinary’ people have been.

      It is amazing to me that judges and politicians and senior public servants are still being paid massively inflated salaries, expenses and pensions – none of which are transparently calculated.

      It is amazing to me that the entire financial security of the next two generations is being risked so that – at most – about 20 people who happen to be large donors to FF and FF politicians can walk away from their debts.

      Every single developer, banker, politician and IBEC type who caused this mess through their championing of a rampant capitalist free-for-all remain wealthy.

      The bankers who resigned walk away with pay-offs that make them financially secure for life – it’s easy to fall on your sword once you’ve secured a pay-off.

      The developers already have millions stashed in off-shore accounts so they’ll be alright.

      And you can be sure as hell the day will never arrive when a Fianna Fáil politician has to sign on the dole or sell one of their houses.

      So sometimes, just sometimes, you do have to get angry and stage a sit-in.

      In Thomas Cook’s case the reality is that a few extra weeks redundancy will probably mean the difference between people keeping their homes or losing them with the cost of providing that extra money about the same as a month’s bonus paid to the firm MD. The thing that makes people angry is that fellow staff sat in a meeting room to decide on this redundancy policy and made a choice to shaft their colleagues despite knowing full well the firm could afford to make a decent offer to its staff. Again, choosing to make sure the management are looked after first.

      In every country there is a tipping point when enough is enough.

      Because the Irish are uniquely lazy and corrupt I don’t think we have reached a tipping point yet but it’s easy to see that changing.

      We saw pensioners take to the streets and scare the sh*te out of Fianna Fáil politicians so we know they run scared of angry people.

      I wonder how Fianna Fáil politicians will react when it isn’t just polite middle-class pensioners who march on Leinster House but actual angry common ‘ordinary’ people.

    • Socialist Party Cllr. Matt Waine was among those arrested too.

      The employees didn’t rush to the nuclear option. They organised, and then management refused to recognise their union at the Direct Holidays store in Talbot Street.

      The employees rallied protests and they ballotted for a strike, all following the recognised and allowed procedure, and management responded by moving up the closure date of the office — employees were literally called into a surprise meeting and told that their shop would be closed up that afternoon, over a month ahead of the time they’d been told when the store closures were announced in May.

      Furthermore, throughout the consultation process, the Thomas Cook employees’ concerns were ignored; they were presented their offer with an ultimatum, management telling them that if they didn’t accept the five-week redundancy package it would be withdrawn and replaced with the statutory minimum two-week package.

      The Thomas Cook workers did not jump directly to militant action — they were driven to it, over the course of months, by hamhanded and insensitive actions by Thomas Cook management.

    • paul m says:

      @8 “Because the Irish are uniquely lazy and corrupt I don’t think we have reached a tipping point yet but it’s easy to see that changing.”

      I take exception to that remark and hope that it was a typo that you left out the word authorities as in “the Irish authorities are lazy and corrupt”

      There is nothing unique about the laziness or corruption in this country it is endemic in most EU countries where who you know and not what you know takes precedence. We are only pipped by Italy in the levels of blatant abuse of power by the political class and their circle of friends. And do we expect none of that to trickle down on us from upon the Dail dungheap?

      If a workers’ revolt is to come we will need a second coming of the likes of Connolly and Larkin. As we’ve seen throughout Irish history it does take rousing characters to drive the masses to mobilisation. After all there are over 400,000 (and counting) ready and able souls lining the streets the first week of every month.

      I do not agree with Mr O’Brien @5 either who calls for greater union representation within the private sector. We’ve seen the sheer mess that union-related issues have caused in Dublin Bus and it is quite possibly a substantial contributing factor to why the dead wood hasnt been cleared from many state and semi state bodies for the benefit of improved services. I’m looking at you, Dublin County Council.

      The manner in which Thomas Cook head office behaved was underhanded but the travel agents’ union here should have been heading to talks in the UK as soon as a proposed closing date was mentioned not after the dust has settled on the event. Pathetic show of union support. Is that what people pay their dues for?

      And as for fellow workers in the UK thinking of themselves first, I can’t blame them really. If it’s a choice between you or someone in another country, where do you think your loyalties will lie? I ask people to consider the situation if it was Thomas Cook employees here making the decision for a UK office to close. Tough times force people to make selfish decisions.

      At the end of the day though another lost job is another nail in FF’s coffin.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      How can anyone working in this industry NOT expect to lose their job. The internet is here folks, like it or not. In ten years no one will believe there were people whose sole function was to book hotels and flights for other people. Five weeks per year? Give me a break. I thought Ireland was trying to become a more competitive place to do business. Come to the US and work for a few years. Two weeks notice…goodbye.

    • Biggus says:

      Yeah – maybe they’re a little tight with the redundancy offer because the company that owns the majority stake in TC is BANKRUPT

      Wonder did the Socialist Party tell that to the workers?

    • Highway61 says:

      The whole TC affair reeked of outdated sense of entitlement: five weeks is generous, as others here have said; media really failed on this story, no other voices allowed, all “poor workers, so brave, yadda yadda…..”

    • Brian Greene says:

      @12 TC are profitable that is the point. The fact that Arcandor AG are insolvent is neither here nor there with regard to the redundancy. TC shares held by Arcandor will sell in part to buyers wanting to buy up stocks & shares in a casino system that values putting people out of work to increase shareholder value. its a sick system.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Reply to @10: NO, I meant the Irish public because it is the Irish public who elect these gombeens. It is the Irish public who made Stroke Fahy top the poll in Galway, who’d let The Bull top the poll in Kerry if he had to face election again, and ditto for all the other useless no hopes that are in every single constituency – 99% of them are in Fianna Fáil – funny that.

      So until the Irish public start voting intelligently and holding politicians to account, the ‘elite’ will carry on as always.

      The buck stops with the public because the public puts these gombeens in the positions of power they hold.

      Reply to @12: Funny how if the holding company for Thomas Cook is bankrupt it can still pay the MD a few million bonus on top of a massive salary and pension fund.

      There seems to be an entire generation of ‘business’ people who have zero business skills and don’t seem to grasp the concept that a ‘profit’ is what’s left after every single bill is paid – bills that are due at the tax year or in a few months’ time and bills that include new stock or expansion or reductions or staff costs or whatever.

      Profit is not every penny left in the till on a Friday despite knowing a rate bill is due next week and thinking you can pay for that out of what is made next week – then when sales fall next week the whole business goes bust.

      Maybe the best thing the government could do for free for those who had businesses fold is send on a business and cashflow management course.

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