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Dáil Diary no 39- 29 May 2015

Aer Lingus / Dunnes Stores Workers – Government show their True Colours…

I don’t believe that many people in Ireland like the idea of Aer Lingus being sold. The notion of State bad, Private good, and that Bigger is better, may with comfortable with those of a Neo Liberal persuasion, but so well with the people who believe that the State should work in the best interest of its citizens, rather than those of big business. Not everyone thinks that it was ok for the State owned Bank IBRC to sell Siteserv to Denis O’Brien at a massive discount, when it appears that they could have go more elsewhere. The State is now selling its share in our only airline for 335 million – a sum that the State has received from Aer Lingus in dividends alone over the last 5 years. Clearly the decision to sell now is more about the Government’s Neo Liberal approach, than about the amount of money they’re getting.

That same Neo Liberal approach goes part of the way to explaining why Dunnes Stores can treat their workers so poorly. Insecure hours of work is a method of control on the part of management – imagine, 20 years ago, 80% of Dunnes workers had full time jobs, now, 80% are part time – a race to the bottom for workers’ rights and conditions. Here’s my Dáil contribution on the issues from Wednesday –

“The Minister said this morning that, as a small carrier competing against larger companies in a changing European environment, Aer Lingus faces difficult challenges and risks. Its board and senior management recognise that and see the IAG proposal as a means to address those and enhance the company's opportunities to grow and develop. He will be hardly shocked to hear me say that this is a very good deal for IAG, its shareholders and anyone who chooses to invest in it, but it is not such a good deal for the Irish people. Aer Lingus, and it is something most of us are proud of, has served the people well. It is financially viable and it makes a great deal of sense that we would keep it rather than give it to someone else to make money from it.

  A few days ago I read an article by Paul Sweeney of TASC in which he stated: "the current push to sell Aer Lingus shares is a result of lobbying by IAG and those who would benefit from the sale, and is not motivated by what is in Ireland's or Aer Lingus' best interest". He went on to state: "Aer Lingus has many strengths and that consolidation into a major airline group is not [remotely] necessary to ensure its survival". Sadly, it does not appear that this is a good business deal for the people. This is a good deal for IAG. It is a neoliberal, ideological move, which is not based on good business practice.

  There seems to be a notion that state is bad and private is good, and that is after the worst economic crisis this country has ever seen where so much of the private sector collapsed. However, as happened when the banks were not worth dust and we bailed them out, the Irish people paid for their problems and now that they are worth something again it appears we will sell them again. When something is profitable and other people can make money from it we do not keep it for the State. We sell it, but when something is no good, the State takes it on. It does not stack up.

  The sale of so much property to foreign investors will create a huge problem in the future. The example I have given in the House on several occasions is the houses, apartments and sites being bought by American investment funds. They are not even selling them on. Many of the developments were brought into NAMA at fire sale prices. It has sold them on and made a fortune in the process but, very often, it is one investor selling to another, and the taxpayer has been the loser on each occasion. Those investors have come here and bought huge developments of apartments and houses, which they are renting. They have now developed a cartel in the rental market that has seen the price of a two bedroom apartment on Dominic Street increase from €1,000 a month to €1,400 a month in two and a half years. It is little wonder there is a housing crisis.

  We boast that this is an even better country in which to do business, but we are eroding workers' rights. It is a dumbing down process - a race to the bottom. Why are we becoming the best little country in the world in which to do business? Alain Supiot explained it very well in the project called Doing Business, a programme of the World Bank that we are so proud to score high in. This is the programme about which we boast that we are high up the ladder in terms of it. He states:
...[It] is the official guide to countries for corporations and businesses who want to face no censure for ignoring workers rights and pay little or no taxes. In the Doing Business report, the comparative table of all the labour regulation in the world includes the following indicators: difficulties in hiring; difficulties in extending or reducing working time; difficulties in making a worker redundant; employment rigidity; and the costs of hiring and firing.
One could not make that up.

  A few weeks ago, 6,000 Dunnes Stores workers went on strike because 80% of them are on temporary work or zero hour contract arrangements. Why is that the case? Julien Mercille pointed out lately that when Margaret Heffernan took over the company in 1993, 80% of Dunnes Stores workers were full-time. Today, 80% of them are part-time or are guaranteed only 15 hours a week.

  Only last week, Dunnes Stores in Gorey closed its doors. It had opened a door onto the car park, thereby breaking their lease arrangements. It created a situation where the customers were coming straight from the car park into its shop, bypassing the 17 other shops in the unit which were losing out dramatically. Dunnes Stores broke the legal arrangement. Why? Because it can, and it put the jobs of 100 workers at risk and put the workers in an insecure position. Dunnes Stores told the workers that their jobs were secure. One of the workers asked them if they could have that in writing, and they would not give it to her. That was interesting.

  How long more are we going to bring issues to this level? It is getting worse. Workers' conditions are disimproving under this Government. Things are much different from what they were in the past. Inequality is rising. Why is the Government not able to protect workers in that situation? Why can the likes of Dunnes Stores terrorise the living daylights out of their workers? Why has it not been pulled up in that regard? How can it get away with breaking a leasing arrangement, locking its doors and saying it will reopen them when it gets its way? Why do we not have a mechanism at Government level for dealing with large businesses which treat Irish people like that? Will the Minister not agree with me? I would like him to answer that question. There is something seriously wrong in that regard”

Mick Wallace

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