Strip Mining The Workforce

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From top: A scene from RTÉ’s What Are You Working For?; Eamonn Kelly

The Phillip Boucher Hayes documentary What Are You Working For? Screened on RTÉ on April 9 demonstrated that the jobs being created in recent times, particularly low paid jobs are not only not achieving what they were supposed to achieve – more funds in the tax net – but are apparently designed in such a way as to deliver neither security or a realistic living wage to those who hold such jobs.

They are in a way McJobs; all appearance and no sustenance.

Early in the programme Boucher-Hayes asked one of the participants, a low-paid retail worker, if she would be better off not working. This is an interesting question and something of a trap in a way, though there is no suggestion that it was intended as such.

To be better off not working alludes of course to the welfare system and the case is then usually made that welfare is too “generous” if some people can only be marginally better off by working.

The participant in this case was working part time in retail, earning €15,000 which left her tax free and also eligible for state supplementary benefit. But the period of entitlement to this state benefit was coming to a close, leaving her in a situation where her weekly earnings did not cover living costs.

This impoverishment of low-paid workers is a familiar scenario in the US where the systems of exploitation of low-paid workers is far more sophisticated, leading to situations where homeless people work full time but remain below the first rung of the so-called accommodation ladder.

It used to be called the housing ladder, but the homelessness crisis has created a new sub-zone requiring a new ladder. Soon we’ll have people struggling to get on the first rung of the deep-black-pit ladder.

The Irish retail worker the RTE documentary, when asked would she better off not working, said that she was earning €15 more for her 15 hours than she would earn if she went on welfare, which she refuses to do because she doesn’t want to take handouts from the state, despite the fact that she is working in a job that doesn’t actually cover living costs.

She went on to say that claiming welfare would set a bad example to her children, and adds:

“They need to have that self-worth to get out there and earn their own money.”

This is a sentiment we would all agree with, and one that is often made by low-paid workers who take pride in asserting that they could not and would not take state “handouts”. It is interesting too that the concept of self-worth is often factored into such sentiments as a quality only deliverable by working in a “job”.

But the idea of “getting out there” and earning “your own money”, while admirable in its fighting intent and moral chutzpah, takes absolutely no cognizance of the realities of finding decently paid occupation in a system seemingly deliberately designed to minimize worker’s benefits and protections.

To have a concept of personal self-worth tied into and dependent on success in such a system seems almost tragic.

These decent, moral qualities expressed by this woman are unfortunately just more sustenance for the dinosaur-like corporate entities roaming the planet. They’ll eat that stuff up all day. It serves them to have moral, honest hard-working people playing by traditional rules and moral codes.

Have you ever heard a multi-national corporation declare that it was too proud to accept state handouts? Corporations take all the handouts they can get and actually have systems in place to trawl the globe looking for state handouts.

They’re no mugs, that’s why they command all the wealth. That’s why we have so many multi-national corporations here in Ireland, and the majority of them are US vampire-like companies who parked their gargantuan arses here, tax free, to avail of state handouts, in exchange for “jobs” they would provide.

But the concept of “job” in this Faustian pact has clearly come to have two separate and distinct meanings for the parties involved.

The state may understand a “job” in the old-fashioned way of an occupation in manufacturing that delivers decent wages to its workers which will filter back into the local economy and into the national tax base in terms of income tax, VAT and so on, with the rising tide lifting all boats and so on. This understanding of “job” is predicated on the assumption that “jobs” are by their nature, well paid, a dangerous assumption as it turns out.

A multi-national company however may view a “job” in an entirely different way. If for instance a company is entering a deal of job provision in return for a tax-free base allowing access to the lucrative European markets, it may create as many jobs as you desire.

But don’t expect them to be “jobs” in the sense you understand the concept. Expect them to be occupations involving the use of the time and labour of local individuals in a setting that looks like the type of setting you assume a “job” belongs in.

A place owned by the employer that provides some service or other and which pays a minimal wage to an employee who is kept there against their natural inclination by the traditional moral imperative of getting out there and earning your own money.

Stick a paper hat on it and presto! It’s a “job”.

But if this “job” doesn’t pay enough to contribute to the tax base and the local economy, as was the case with all of the low-paid jobs featured in the RTÉ documentary, almost 400,000 of them, it is not a “job” in the sense in which you understood when you entered into a tax-exemption deal with multi-national companies in return for the creation of “jobs”.  They’re jobs, Jim. But not as we know them.

Such jobs are deliberately designed to be precarious, particularly jobs created by the US companies who have decades of experience in feeding off workforces as if people are just so many tubes of toothpaste to be used up and discarded.

The effect of engineering precarious employment is to destroy the concept of unions and worker protections and to leave individual workers bearing the costs of creating employment while the corporation takes all the profit.

This creates a situation where the projected tax take from increased employment that was understood as part of the “job” creation deal doesn’t materialise.

Everyone is working, but everyone is losing except the corporations. And that’s the way it is arranged. Workers can never win. It’s like gambling in a casino. The games are rigged. The house always wins.

So, what’s being taken from people, in real terms?

Their time. Their energy. Their skills. Their education. Their autonomy.

Here’s the IDA’s sell of Irish workers to lure foreign companies to Ireland.

International reports rate Ireland’s workforce highly for factors such as educational attainment, productivity and flexibility

These qualities are assets and are being sold on the international market by the government to lure so-called foreign investment.

But if the workers then hired in the deal of tax breaks and an educated workforce in return for “jobs” are then essentially cheated by these companies by being hi-jacked into precarious employments, as was demonstrated on the RTÉ documentary, it is clear that the initial deal is being poorly misunderstood by the deal-makers in government.

It’s a bad deal that fails to achieve what it set out to achieve, leaving Irish people essentially footing the bill for multinational profiteers, whether through low wages and the sacrifice of their skills to the cause of the multi-nationals’ business priorities, or by paying tax for social services some of which will supplement the living costs of the impoverished workers who are simply not being paid enough to live on and must resort to welfare top-ups.

Many short-term contracts create a situation where workers are on permanent call at the whim of the employer. Such a situation has further hidden costs in basic human needs and the effect on family relationships. Plus, you can be sure there are people who are simply not sleeping as much as they should for best health, and not eating properly.

These too are costs paid by the employee that directly enhance corporate profit while incurring health deficits that will inevitably mean future costs on the health service as over-worked people’s health breaks down. Costs which will again be paid by the Irish tax-payer.

All these “assets” are being turned to capital by the multi-national companies invited by a government still essentially exercising the tricks of the Lemass era.

It even could be that this ongoing dependent behaviour on multi-nationals to do our job creation for us has left our governments relatively guileless in the ways of business, and now prone to cutting deals that are damaging in their naivete.

Though I’m not sure the Irish establishment is that naïve. It’s more likely and fits more with anecdotal evidence and personal experience that they simply have no real respect or esteem for the native citizenry.

The way these multi-national companies operate is a bit like strip-mining the human workforce. All the skills, talents, qualifications and experience are turned over to the companies by the government in the interest of “job” creation.

But the “jobs” created are immediately stripped of profit by systems already in place and the workers and all their assets in the form of education and skills is immediately turned into a kind of human pulp from which the companies crush time, expertise, labour and fundamental health into profit for the company.

These profit-harvesting machines create wastelands of people and places, like those desolate US urban spaces you see on Louis Theroux documentaries where junkies roam like zombies until such time as they step foul of the law and are washed and dressed in cotton whites and consigned for life into fridge-like cubicles in privately run prisons where, in their permanent captivity they still miraculously generate profits for private companies.

This pact of tax breaks and selling off an educated workforce to multi-national companies in return for “jobs” is not only a poor deal, it also seems like an ongoing statement of a national lack of self-confidence. An Achille’s heel that is being mercilessly exploited by international profiteers.

All the creativity of a highly educated workforce is being burnt up to serve the production really of multinational company profits, with skilled people being pressed to take “proper jobs” that are often a waste of their talents and that are so poorly paid that they don’t qualify to contribute in any meaningful way to the tax base.

I came across an article recently where someone said of the US job market that wonderful art works are being lost because the artists and musicians are being pressed into low paid employment flipping burgers and so on. The same is happening here because the same principles and the same players are being let loose here too.

The talents and qualifications being wasted in the service of these companies is also a loss of potential real capital, since it has been demonstrated in study after study that the arts are a huge source of income to any country and are of particularly lucrative potential here in Ireland where the native talent is the envy of more culturally sterile but wealthy countries, like Germany for instance.

In the long-term, raw creative talent will not achieve its potential, because its energy and gift is being squandered to serve the creation of corporate profits for minimal benefit, in the name of the creation of an old-hat understanding of “real jobs”.

The waste of native talent in exchange for McJobs is tantamount to a crime against culture. A dated initiative for job-creation that is selling us all out and burning up future potential in exchange for nothing really, except a statistical boast for a government who then claim a raise for a job well done.

If you demonstrated the tax-breaks for jobs deal in a kindergarten with squares of chocolate, the five-year-olds would look on with total derision at the obvious cheat of it all.

Eamonn Kelly is a freelance writer

Top pic: RTÉ

38 thoughts on “Strip Mining The Workforce

  1. Baffled

    This is the latest in a series of pieces on this website that suggest to the casual observer that part-time / precarious / zero-hours work is fast becoming the norm in Ireland.

    However, it is interesting to note that the latest CSO data show that the proportion of people in employment in Ireland who work full-time is the highest it has been for 9 years.

    1. david

      The only solution is government ensuring the country is affordable to live in
      A government has the power to control inflation
      A government can bring in laws or tax reform to ensure compliance
      It takes a government that realises out of control ripp offs only lead to your country not attractive for companies to do business in
      Its quite simple
      The fly in the ointment is the unwillingness of government to govern

    2. Rob_G

      Another wordy stream-of-consciousness effort from Eamonn, devoid of any stats to back it up.

      “since it has been demonstrated in study after study that the arts are a huge source of income to any country and are of particularly lucrative potential here in Ireland where the native talent is the envy of more culturally sterile but wealthy countries, like Germany for instance.”

      = ‘Dear Arts Council, please give me a grant.’

      (not to mention the assertion that Germany is ‘culturally sterile’, but it would take too long to tell Eamonn why he is wrong about this as well)

      1. Joe Small

        I’m bemused that the multinational sector come in for so much stick considering that their average wage are significantly higher than that over Irish-owned businesses.

        I’m awaiting part 2, where he offers some realistic solutions that have somehow evaded everyone else.

        1. Rob_G

          They are the ones causing skyrocketing rents around the docklands with their McJob salaries
          ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    3. filly buster

      Baffled’s comment .. full-time or part-time isn’t the difference between if you can live from the job or not. the case of the woman in part time retail happened to be about part time, but the article in general is about low paid jobs in general. you are defo working for FG, having identified the wrong part of the article, and throwing in “highest in 9 years” .. a line driven continuously by FG.

  2. dhaughton99

    Cycling with a large green bag on your back to deliver a crepe to the IFSC is the future of work.
    Thank the Labour Party.

    1. david

      Doubt it
      Soon driverless modes of transport
      The future will be only jobs with direct interaction with humans
      I see caring a big one when the aging population age and cannot look after themselves
      I see family members paid a living wage to do this
      Its cheaper
      Over a grand a week in the nursing homes
      A fraction of the cost when a family member dose so.
      Think of it

  3. Andrew

    ” culturally sterile but wealthy countries, like Germany ”
    I laughed at that. You don’t know what you’re talking about Eamonn Kelly.That’s an ignorant comment to make. You live in a bubble. You’re no different to a lot of Irish people in that respect.

    1. david

      Well they did eradicate in Germany most of their Jews who are some of the greatest thinkers and people of the arts in the 1930s
      But saying that all music innovativeness is centred in places like Berlin
      The Berthold Brecht style of music that made Berlin in the 1930s the centre of the decadent behaviour that was cabaret one of the greatest films has influenced many of to days stars
      I remember one of my customers when I had a restaurant in Dublin Agnes Burnelle who influenced none other than our own Gavin Friday and one of my favourites Marianne faithful
      Agnes was a German Jew whose father owned a cinema in Berlin and guess where?
      Right slap bang in the middle of what was the Berlin wall
      She was one of the greats .

      1. Rob_G

        david, as concise and relevant as we have to come to expect from his unique brand of rambling anecdote.

  4. GiggidyGoo

    I see the FGers are out and unable to understand the article, and purposely quote ‘culturally sterile’ without the word ‘more’ that was included.
    Leo McJob

    1. Rep

      Well you could point out where they are wrong. Its probably a better idea than offering nothing but pathetic snipes from the sidelines.

  5. A person

    I’m sorry, but this has to the most inept article I’ve read hear in a long time. All US jobs are McJobs. Ask everyone employed in Google here if that is true. All cultural jobs are good and well paid. Ask the back room staff in every cultural institute in Ireland if that is true. How can a country of 60 million people be considered “more culturally sterile than us”. We’re Irish and therefore better than them..ffs. Seriously BS, why get people to write this bs?

  6. Owen C

    This is a bizarre post devoid of any facts or data and actually at odds with available facts and data (and at odds with the RTE documentary it references).

    The core complaint running through the post is that US companies are setting up here to avail of low taxes but won’t pay proper wages or provide fair working conditions.

    The problem with this thesis is that if we look at the CSO data on average wages, the four highest paid sectors are Information & Communication (ie tech), Finance & Real Estate , Public Admin, and Professional/Scientific/Technical activities. This are the industries where US foreign investment are focused.

    The four lowest paid: accommodation/food, arts & entertainment, admin & support services, wholesale & retail. These are areas primarily focused on the domestic economy and more often than not owned and operated by domestic business owners (including the government)!!

    The whole thing is a nonsense that has the facts upside down – it is almost unquestionably businesses aimed at domestic consumers (owned and operated by domestic business owners, including the government in some situations – in the RTE documentary its a naval service cadet and a retail worker who are originally cited, then it is British company Deliveroo, who have no apparent tax benefits from being in Ireland, who are referenced) who are low pay providers of “precarious” employment, not international exporters (ie multinational businesses – the RTE documentary actually highlights this point!!).

    The main actual argument against MNCs is that they simply don’t provide enough employment in the first place, or that the good jobs they create still don’t make up for the loss of corporation tax etc they would otherwise pay. But that’s a different argument and one which has been gotten completely wrong in this post.

    1. david

      Maybe break down the data as key members were they Irish people living here then hired
      Or imported from other countries and paid 250 grand compared to 10back room staff on 25 grand
      As for tax reasons 13 billion tax reasons being fought by the Irish government for apple
      It is wel know Ireland is a tax haven for offshore companies using every scam legal to avoid tax
      So they employ a few staff BSM
      Look at all the billions they save
      But nice try from Leo’s SCUnit

  7. Owen C

    Further on that RTE documentary:

    Workers complaining/concerned with their working pay & conditions: naval cadet, retail worker, teacher, waitress, deliveroo rider, healthcare workers. All people employed by or within the domestic economy.

    Workers who seem happy with their working pay & conditions: people actually working for multinational corporations and working in the international economy.

    Watching the RTE documentary and then writing this nonsense would require some form of illegal pharmaceutical consumption.

    1. david

      All you mentioned are public sector workers except multinationals who are private sector
      The other private sector workers have absolutely no say and as such just keep on trying to earn enough to only dream of a roof over their heads
      Ie service industries
      Next time when you blog ask someone cleaning your office or making your latte how they feel

      1. Owen C

        David: “All you mentioned are public sector workers except multinationals who are private sector”

        Eamonn Kelly: “A multi-national company however may view a “job” in an entirely different way. If for instance a company is entering a deal of job provision in return for a tax-free base allowing access to the lucrative European markets, it may create as many jobs as you desire. But don’t expect them to be “jobs” in the sense you understand the concept. Expect them to be occupations involving the use of the time and labour of local individuals in a setting that looks like the type of setting you assume a “job” belongs in.”

        So i mentioned multinationals cos that’s what Eamonn Kelly was complaining about. Do try and keep up. The person serving your latte will be almost certainly employed by a local business owner, not a multinational. There will be no tax deal in place to ensure their employment.

  8. Science

    Am I missing something here? €15k a year for 15 Boris is €19 per hour which is a very decent wage.

    People can get by on a lot less.

    1. Rob_G

      I’m trying to decide if ’15 Boris’ is autocorrect, or some hip new rhyming slang that has passed me by.

    2. david

      Excuse my friends knowledge of life outside his little IT bubble
      Soon though these multinational locusts will move on to fresher pastures where tax benefits are higher
      Maybe back to trumps USA where they pay a nominal tax to repatriate their off shore billions

  9. Neilo

    ‘Culturally sterile’? Lemme see now: great architecture, films, opera, philosophy, literature, classical music, Krautrock, kabarets and Kraftwerk. Yep, Germany’s a redoubt of philistinism.

    1. david

      You forgot Hitler and the result of decades of soviet union occupation
      And of course millions of lives
      But I give the Germans that great composers
      Also same for the Russians and all east European countries
      Mind you great bakers confectioners
      The sourkraut the salami the sausage
      Then the cars
      Merc Porsche BMW engineering at its best

    1. Hansel

      Yes but forget all the culture they have NOW and just remember the Nazis and Hitler. Like, before we were born.

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