Irish MEPs stepped up pressure on the European Commission today to explain why Brussels approved funding of more than €50m to help US computer giant Dell close its Limerick plant and move to Poland.
The call came as MEPs in Strasbourg backed the release of €14.8m from the European Globalisation Fund to help Dell’s Irish workers and suppliers find new jobs.
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre De Bruin said the European Parliament move provided some justice for Dell workers – but the Commission now had to explain why it effectively encouraged the switch by Dell to a cheaper factory site in Poland in the first place.
Dell’s closure of its Irish plant hit 2,840 workers and suppliers. Dell moved Limerick production to a cheaper plant in Poland with the help of €54.5m-worth of Polish government subsidies approved by the European Commission.
Ms De Bruin said in Strasbourg: “EU policy has the effect of using public money to set worker against worker and country against country in a race to the bottom in terms of wages and conditions. If the profits are not big enough a company knows they will be subsidised (by Brussels) to move to a more profitable location.”
She said she welcomed European Parliament backing for the €14.8m of redundancy aid – money first announced by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso when he visited Limerick to support the pre-referendum “yes” vote campaign.
Ms De Bruin said the money would provide “a modicum of justice” for the sacked workers, but went on: “However it does not absolve Dell of their responsibility to the workers who have been made redundant in the pursuit of even greater profits.”
She insisted the closure of the Limerick factory was unnecessary on cost grounds, as Dell is now buying a competitor company – Perot Systems – for $3.9bn (€2.58bn).
The MEP continued: “The European Commission also has some hard questions to answer: why did it approve €54.5m funding for Dell to establish a new manufacturing plant in Poland? This amounts to state aid for sacking the workers in Limerick.”
Limerick Sinn Féin Councillor Maurice Quinlivan said approval of the cash aid for Dell’s redundant Limerick workers was an important step for the workers and their families.
“The next step is for the Irish Government to do everything in its power to ensure Dell repays any grants it received and uses the profits generated in Limerick over the years to provide fair compensation for the Dell workers,” he said.
Irish Labour MEP Alan Kelly, who took a delegation of Dell workers from Ireland to Strasbourg yesterday, also welcomed backing for the cash aid.
“Once the money is approved by the EU, we are halfway there. It is up to the Irish Government and the agencies to use every penny in a way that deals with the interests of the workers.
“They must get organised. The money must be used very, very quickly. We have made it clear to the Irish authorities that this fund is not to supplement any national employment programme that is already there to help the unemployed.”
UK Labour MEP Stephen Hughes said the Commission’s support for the Polish aid package was “simply not acceptable”.
He went on: “It is obvious that the Commission’s right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
“Dell cannot close a plant relying on EU funds to help the workers who lose their jobs, then reopen another in another member state with subsidies from public funds.
“The European Commission, which approved the aid, should have handled the case better. We cannot accept this way of setting EU workers against one another.”
The French chairman of the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee, Pervenche Beres, said: “The Dell case must never happen again. The Commission should be more careful in future.
“The EU recovery plan (in the wake of the economic downturn) commits EU institutions to maintain jobs whenever possible; obviously, the Commission did very little to implement this policy in the Dell case.”