Irish Examiner View: Abuse of trust makes solidarity difficult

The pandemic is a test of legislative safeguards, especially those designed to protect consumers. Health and education systems are stretched in ways unimaginable even at the turn of the year. International travel is at a standstill with huge consequences for jobs. Sport has disappeared. Restaurants and bars are silent.
Irish Examiner View: Abuse of trust makes solidarity difficult

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), addresses journalists during a press conference in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on November 27, 2019. (Photo by Daniel ROLAND / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL ROLAND/AFP via Getty Images)
Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), addresses journalists during a press conference in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on November 27, 2019. (Photo by Daniel ROLAND / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL ROLAND/AFP via Getty Images)

The pandemic is a test of legislative safeguards, especially those designed to protect consumers. Health and education systems are stretched in ways unimaginable even at the turn of the year. International travel is at a standstill with huge consequences for jobs.

Sport has disappeared. Restaurants and bars are silent.

Two sides of the same coin — business and employment — are challenged in ways that represent a real and present danger to the economic security of businesses, communities and individuals. Maybe even political stability in extreme cases.

Earlier this week ECB chief Christine Lagarde warned the euro zone economy could shrink by 12%. Gloom is, even as we step into summer, not in short supply.

These challenges come when public trust in too-big-to-fail business is limited. A relationship that should be mutually beneficial has failed because of the misuse of power. The banking crisis of 2008 changed the consumer-service provider relationship forever.

The tracker mortgages’ ordure lingers. Examples of individuals who bought homes only to discover they were victims of cowboy builders facilitated by virtual regulation encourage that distrust.

That they have been left more or less to fend for themselves strengthens the idea that it’s every man and woman for themselves.

That is not how it should be in a decent society but that it can be our reality shows where power and indifference lie. It also highlights our conservative, business-orientated governments’ tolerance of predation dressed as something else.

Many of these issues come together in the story of British tax-exile billionaire Richard Branson’s efforts to get one government or another to rescue his airline businesses.

It is tempting to dismiss his pleas but he is playing his strongest card — 70,000 jobs in jeopardy. Airlines are shedding jobs at a frightening rate. British Airways’ parent IAG, who own Aer Lingus, is to cut up to 12,000 jobs, Ryanair 3,000. Aer Lingus announced yesterday that it will cut 900.

The International Air Transport Association say Europe’s carriers could lose €70bn. Around 26,000 people work in aviation in the Republic. Its subsidiary industry tourism, employs 180,000.

Those figures are behind the Government support for airlines’ calls to the European Commission be allowed to offer credit notes instead of cash refunds to those who had booked flights but were unable to travel because of the pandemic.

The letter says that when the existing regulations were drawn up, the scale of today’s crisis “could not have been foreseen”.

That is indeed true and airlines’ cash flow has collapsed. The tens of thousands of consumers struggling to recover fares from airlines, those getting the runaround from insurance companies too, might adopt a more sanguine attitude if the record of big business in customer care was more impressive. Trust has, unfortunately, been abused once too often.

Great change is promised post pandemic and rebuilding the essential trust between business and consumers should be part of that rejuvenation. Optimism must be tempered however as the banks promised a new culture after they were rescued in 2008.

That dawn has not arrived which suggests aspiration needs the force of legislation. How very sad.

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