In the past 24 hours the last of the former Vita Cortex workers have received their statutory redundancy. As the online campaign said in a previous blog when the announcement was made this has to be welcomed. These 32 people have spent almost 70 days and nights living in a cold factory. It has been a tough struggle for all concerned emotionally and financially. And who would deny them this sense of stability after the way these men and women have stood up and shown a nation, rocked by austerity and cutbacks, how to fight against injustice? However this payment does not represent a victory. The men responsible for the struggle of these workers have not paid their debt, taxpayers, both personal and corporate have through the social insurance fund.
There are some be inclined to think that – “well sure isn’t that enough for them really? But the heart of this struggle was about compelling the company owners to make good on their promises and that has not happened. There are some of you who will wonder if the fast tracking was a move by economic and social powers to quash the campaign against these owners, a campaign that has shed an unwelcome light on the corporate law system in Ireland and the inability or unwillingness of the government to act against the unscrupulous behaviour in the business community. That is a question to which we do not have an answer.
What we do know though is that there are parties who are using the payment of the statutory redundancy to try to make this campaign disappear. Accusations were made against the workers calling them “blackmailers”, slurs against the character of high profile supporters were made in letters to newspapers and IBEC came out defending the company owners and attacking the worker’s union.
Another issue worth mentioning is that there is often a difference between that which is legal and that which is morally right. The Irish system of Corporate Law has been constructed in such a way as to allow business owners to share fully in the upside of their business activities and remain mostly insulated from the downside. It has been established this way to encourage entrepreneurs to take risks and be creative in starting and growing businesses without being inhibited by fear of personal financial consequences should their endeavors end in failure. This is what powers a capitalist economy. However these laws were written, with an underlying assumption that those benefiting from their advantages had sound moral judgment in terms of right and wrong and would be lead by a sense of ethical behaviour towards those they employ. That is where Mr. Ronan and Mr. McHenry come in. While running a company in to the ground, transferring funds from one company in the group to another and making 2.5 million euro payouts to 3 shareholders may lie within the auspices of company law, it does not mean that it is not morally reprehensible to amass huge personal wealth at the expense of workers you break promises to while you allow the state to pay your debts. We should not allow the owners of this company and IBEC to equate “legal” with “morally right”. Doing the right thing implies both operating within the law and having regard for the human beings who worked loyally for you for 847 years. We should, as “fair minded people”, not make that mistake.
These 32 workers believe that the company, group and owners have the capacity to pay the full redundancy as promised – 2 weeks to be returned to the state and .9 to be paid to the workers. They believe that further investigation is warranted in to the circumstances that allowed this situation to happen. This fight has become less about money and more about justice. It aims to highlight the injustices inherent in a legal system that cannot protect workers from immoral business owners and in fact actually enables their reprehensible actions. This fight aims to make wealthy business owners, not the state, liable for their own debts.
Could the 32 workers just take their statutory and go home? Absolutely. Many of them are nearing retirement and could go home and have some comfort. But if they give up what will have been achieved from 70 days and nights of hardship? Nothing. Who would be the next victims of Jack Ronan and other unscrupulous business people? Maybe you or your family or friends. And what would the government of this country have done to protect our rights and those of every other worker, their children and grandchildren? Nothing. So this campaign stays lit. It stays alive because the people who are responsible have not yet been held accountable. It stays alive because promises remain unfulfilled and the law remains inadequate. It stays alive because this story is a microcosm of what is happening to people all over Ireland and these 32 workers are fighting for justice for all of us.
Veronica Marshall & Darren O’Keeffe
Coordinators of the Support The Vita Cortex Workers Online Campaign