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8 November 2007 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Radical rethink on job creation

RECENT announcements about expected further redundancies in Waterford Crystal and major job losses at Seagate in Limavady would suggest that a radical rethink on the approach to job creation and security is required.
I share the sense of despair voiced by workers, business people and communities following such announcements, whether in Belfast or Dublin, or Derry or Cork. News of large-scale redundancies is demoralising for communities and devastating for local economies. But the full extent of the effect that this type of news has on workers is not apparent. Companies, in an attempt to put a favourable gloss on their disregard for loyal service by employees, announce only the positive aspects of redundancy packages in order to deflect most of the negative publicity.
Most of these companies are not moving because they are not making a profit but moving to low-wage economies in order to make even greater profits. Not only are they dismissive of the contribution that their workers make to their overall success and substantial profits but then they put conditions on severance entitlements so that if an employee accepts another job offer their financial package is either reduced or eliminated altogether. Government must introduce legislation to ensure that once a company gives notice to an employee the only determining factor affecting the scale of a redundancy package attached to such notice should be the length of service.
Another practice slowly being introduced by multinationals is that of using employment agencies to supply workers, thereby absolving themselves of any financial liability to the employee. These workers, if caught in a round of lay-offs or factory closures, are not entitled to any redundancy payment even though some of them have worked in the company for several years
I believe that there are lessons to be learned from these experiences. As the turn-down in the major economies continues, other manufacturing jobs will come under similar pressure as multinational companies seek to maximise profits by moving operations to emerging, low-wage economies. Therefore, it is time for a radical rethink of how we plan for the future.
First of all, we need to legislate for proper conditions of employment for workers and security of entitlements. Companies, particularly those in receipt of substantial government subvention, must adhere to basic human and financial rights for workers. But if we are to compete for sustainable direct inward investment as well as build our indigenous manufacturing sector then we must equip ourselves with the skill and expertise in the higher-knowledge-based disciplines.
We must invest in our future by encouraging our young people to focus on achieving qualifications in areas such as engineering, research and development, intelligent design and medical research that will attract jobs to the high end of the economic spectrum and which will, in turn, have the effect of creating other levels of employment that will be less vulnerable to competition from low-wage economies. These are the jobs of the future. These are the jobs that will not become transcient or susceptible to cheap labour forces.

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