‘There’s a lot of questions and not many answers’

ALTHOUGH it hoped to promote its brand through acquiring the naming rights for the new stadium at Lansdowne Road in a €44 million sponsorship deal, Aviva staff felt there was nothing very sporting about the manner in which the company announced its decision to cut 950 jobs in Ireland.

Ashen-faced workers arrived at the group’s Irish headquarters in Dublin aware that bad news was in the offing following widespread media publicity about cutbacks at the insurer’s Irish operations.

Aviva executives from Britain who had travelled to Ireland on Tuesday hurriedly entered the company’s building — One Park Place — as similar briefings were also held in Aviva’s offices in Cork and Galway.

In Dublin, workers were instructed to erect large sheets at the building’s entrance to prevent photographers from taking pictures of the predominantly young workers as they assembled to hear their fate.

About 90 minutes after the meeting ended the blinds were removed and a slow trickle of workers braved the arctic-like conditions to go out for a cigarette or a sandwich at a nearby coffee shop.

Faced with a large media contingent, most brushed past the waiting journalists without comment. A few Aviva staff paused briefly to offer some observations on the meeting, although all declined to be named.

One male employee, who had worked with Aviva for the past 11 years, said the future looked bleak as both he and his girlfriend worked at the company, albeit in different sections.

“They’ve not given us anything, so we’ll have to wait and see. There’s a lot of questions being asked but we’re not getting much answers. People are essentially being told to keep on working as normal even though they know they are going to lose their jobs,” he said.

Although he admitted the level of business at Aviva had deteriorated over the past few years, he blamed the downturn principally on “decisions taken by senior management”.

Another male employee also complained bitterly about the lack of information on how the redundancies would be implemented.

“We didn’t learn anything today that we hadn’t already known from Prime Time or RTÉ news,” he said.

The 31-year-old, who has worked with Aviva for the past five years, said he was lucky as he had no mortgage but expressed sympathy for a lot of his colleagues who had young families.

A spokesperson for Unite — the trade union representing about 1,300 Aviva workers — said they were stunned by the scale of the redundancies being sought by Aviva, especially given the fact that it remains very profitable.

Unite regional organiser Brian Gallagher criticised the lack of information being made available by management at how the various divisions would be affected by the cutbacks.

“Communication was poor and the key decisions were clearly taken on a multinational basis from London without due consideration of the impact that the uncertainty has had on the workforce and on the reputation of the business in Ireland,” he said.

Aviva workers in Galway expressed anger at the way they were treated by the company.

The 220 staff at the Knocknacarra facility on the west side of the city turned up for work yesterday expecting the worst. But they left frustrated and angry after not being told how many — or who — would lose their jobs in the coming months.

Aviva sent an unnamed senior executive to Galway and he met with an angry response after he addressed staff. “We got a pile of crap from this fella who came down from Dublin,” said worker Denise Cooke.

“He told us nothing we didn’t know. When he finished, I was the first to tell him that. It was a pure waste of the man’s time, coming from Dublin. I’m here 10 years and I have a mortgage and all the rest of it. We’re all devastated and we won’t know what the story is until March,” she said.

She added that workers know that the lease is up on the building in March and are fearful for the future.

“There are a lot of people here with mortgages, kids — they are even people working here with partners in Aviva. The morale in the place is lower than low. At the end of the day we could be just a subsidiary, or worse,” she said.

Claire O’Donnell had been with Aviva for most of her working life. She said she has enjoyed working there, but now did not know what the future held.

“They told us nothing new. Ye know as much as we do,” one young call centre employee told the waiting media.

“They’ve given us no information. It would be nice if we knew what the situation was but it could be March before we know,” she said.

Judith Mbuze, a mother of two, said Aviva had been a good company to work for but now they were all uncertain what the future holds.

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