The “gross injustice” being perpetrated by a wealthy, large, multinational conglomerate, the Wallis Group, against a group of some of the most decent, loyal and hard working people in Limerick was raised in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil Deputy Willie O’Dea.
The Wallis shop is one of a number of units owned by the Arcadia Group, a multinational corporation, he said. There is a long-standing agreement to the effect that, when the company makes someone redundant in Ireland, it makes a redundancy payment of five weeks per year’s service - the statutory redundancy that it is legally obliged to pay plus three weeks of its own volition.
“The company has suddenly changed the goal posts,” he said. “In respect of the Wallis group of workers, it has decided that it will only pay 2.75 weeks per year’s service, which is its statutory obligation plus 0.75. This is despite the fact that, only a few short months ago when the company was dealing with other redundancies in Dublin, it paid the five weeks even though the staff had nothing like the length of service of those in Limerick. These people have served the company loyally for as long as 20 years or more. They have built the business from the ground up and into the success that it is today.”
The amount of redundancy is not the only issue, he said. There are also issues about how the company is handling restructuring. “While I do not have time to go into the matter in detail, suffice to say that the treatment being meted out to the employees in this regard can only be described as shoddy, shabby and contemptible,” he said.
“We should look for a moment at the multinational corporation that is involved in this sort of skulduggery, The Arcadia group has over 10,000 employees and is privately owned by a gentleman called Sir Philip Green who is well known in financial and society circles throughout the world. Photographs of him are to be seen as often in the society pages as in the financial pages, besporting himself on his yacht in Monte Carlo with his rich and famous friends.”
In reply Minister Richard Bruton said the matter involves a dispute over redundancy terms offered to ten staff who are based in the Cruises Street branch, which closed recently. Similar terms are being offered to staff based in the Childers Road branch, which is to undergo restructuring as part of a nationwide Wallis restructuring plan.
“It is also my understanding that talks aimed at resolving this dispute had taken place - a development which I welcomed,” he said. “The company put forward fresh proposals during these talks but I understand that these have been rejected by the Mandate trade union. I would point out that Ireland’s system of industrial relations is voluntary in nature and responsibility for the resolution of industrial relations issues lies ultimately with employers and workers, and their respective representatives as appropriate.
“Experience constantly shows us that what often appears to be the most intractable of matters is capable of resolution where both sides engage constructively and in good faith in this voluntary process.”
Freedom of Information Act does not mean free information – O’Donovan
While we call it the Freedom of Information Act, access to information is anything but free, Limerick Fine Gael Deputy Patrick O’Donovan told the Dáil.
Sometimes the more vexatious and spurious requests for information can tie up officers in local authorities, State agencies and public bodies for a huge amount of time, he said. This costs money.
“To those who are having a go at the fees charged, the real cost of accessing information is far in excess of the fees charged,” he said. “The research conducted for us shows that the vast majority of freedom of information requests come from journalists and that some of them are convoluted and complicated. They take time and it costs money.”
Speaking on a new Freedom of Information Bill, he said politicians and people working in the public service of his generation have become used to the idea of freedom of information, which is good.
“That means that when decisions are being made, or when people are acting in a public agency or making representations, they are conscious that whatever they say or commit to in writing or an e-mail might end up in the public arena,” he said. “That is good because it means that, as we go about our work, we are conscious of the fact that we are representatives of the people. Whatever we have to say on their behalf should be capable of being reproduced in public.”