Forget cynicism and greed, the State should protect staff from rogue restructuring

Government, in the interests of the workers of this State, should also take action when it appears to be clear that a company is restructured to avoid paying its employees or its suppliers, writes Paul Mills

In the movie Wall Street, the Gordon Gekko character proclaimed that “greed is good”. 

That quote is wrapped around another old cliché that “a rising tide raises all boats”.

We know that neither is entirely true.

Yet, we also know that many amongst us subscribe wholeheartedly to both maxims.

When many of us think of greed we think of that alleged American culture of greed, “I want and I can have it all”, espoused by Gordon Gekko and his ilk.

We believe that, whichever way you slice it, the financial services sector centred in Wall Street was the single major contributor to the economic collapse that most of the world experienced over the last seven years or so.

That the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the epitome of multimillion- dollar bonuses for top executives, was the marker for the collapse, underlined where we know the blame lies.

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That collapse brought other types of vultures to these shores, in the shape of vulture funds swooping in to get Irish assets at very low cost and then to squeeze every cent they can out of them by doing whatever needs to be done to make that last cent.

That means that if the last cent can be achieved by shutting it down, then that’s the way it will happen.

There is no regard for the loss of livelihoods that result.

The only consideration is the profits for the funds’ shareholders and the mega bonuses for the individual vultures.

We are not naïve, however.

We know that there is also a culture of greed here in Ireland.

In the news headlines, over recent days, we once again begin to hear of the ‘compo culture’ where the few gain at the expense of the many.

It’s a widely held opinion that the legal profession is a major beneficiary of this culture.

Yet, Government is afraid to tackle it head on, despite the urgings of the troika.

It’s just one more wrong that this Government has failed to tackle despite its promises to do so.

On June 12 of this year, the iconic Dublin department store Clerys was shut down; not in an orderly wind down, not as a direct result of failing sales, but in what appears to have been a clearly engineered fashion to maximise the return for the owners.

With it went the jobs of 460 workers in both Clerys and the concessions, as well as the closure of those concessions and the resulting loss of business.

It did not go down well with an awful lot of people.

Politicians jumped on the bandwagon and voiced their determination to do something about it.

Councillors agreed to take measures to prevent any new owners from having the area re-zoned even though their power to implement such an action appears to be minimal.

The actions taken, as we understand it, included setting up two companies, one owning the assets and one the retail operation.

Strangely, the sale apparently took place in the middle of the night.

It was reported at the time by one of the concessionaires the money was collected from the tills earlier than normal the previous evening.

As a result, the workers are owed a packet and are apparently now patiently waiting for the taxpayer to pay them statutory redundancy as the operating company has no money, being a totally separate company to the asset-holding company. This amount is reported to be several million euro.

The nicest thing that can be said about the affair is that it’s cynical in the extreme.

Well-known businesswoman, Lorraine Sweeney, who operated the Café concession in Clerys has stated that she is preparing legal action against all of the relevant parties.

She believes that the concession holders alone are owed up to €3m.

The taxman is quick to take action if he finds a company is restructuring its business to avoid tax.

Government, in the interests of the workers of this State, should also take action when it appears to be clear that a company is restructured to avoid paying its employees or its suppliers.

The taxpayer is being gouged enough by the State itself.


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