I don’t understand the world of big business and high finance but I do know a little about people and a lot more, it would appear, than the Receiver at Waterford Crystal. While no one can deny financial difficulties or a changing global economy, it is deeply worrying that with all the industrial relations experience available in the Western World we still have a situation in 2009 where workers need to stage a ‘sit in’ to get answers. Call it what you will, but the sheer act of ‘sitting in’ says loudly that there is a chasm of mistrust between the parties involved.
The job of a Receiver is never an easy one. It requires a delicate balancing act and I am sure high qualifications in accountancy, finance or economics, but are such people ever vetted for their qualifications in common sense? Every business expert agrees that treating people with respect is good business. Entire books have been devoted to the subject. In the meantime the Receivers’ Handbook obviously gives different advice: “keep employees in the dark at all costs”; “don’t tell them what’s happening, leave that up to rumour and chance”; “it’s fine to be economical with the truth”; “employ outside security guards, even though there is no real security threat, as this is guaranteed to antagonise”.
As a lesson in how not to do things the Waterford Crystal situation is a good example. Naturally where you have hundreds of people it will be impossible to please everyone, but respect and honesty go a long way towards calm and the best solution and are surely the least that should be expected in this day and age. This is not Dickensian London, Guv’nor or even the miners’ situation of the 80s!
It was uncomfortable viewing watching the events at Waterford Crystal on the TV on Friday afternoon last. It was very sad to see grown men and women driven unnecessarily to panic. It was disgraceful that there was an attempt to keep them out of their own workplace by force; inevitably creating a ‘sit in’ where adults have to behave like protesting students to get information. This is wrong no matter what factory or workplace we are talking about.
One man interviewed on Friday said he had started in Waterford Crystal in 1970. To think that you could work for a company for just shy of 40 years and be treated in such a manner suggests antiquated attitudes. I thought we had left those days behind when we treated human beings with such disregard. I have no wish to vilify the Receiver, it is one of those jobs that is unpleasant and perhaps he was backed into a corner last week, but even still his actions lacked any compassion or regard and were potentially inflammable given the emotions involved. Fortunately the workers kept their heads and prevented a bad situation from deteriorating into a total disaster. I wonder if those tapes were scrutinised could the same be said of the ‘professional security men’ employed for……actually I’m not sure what they were employed for?
The workers didn’t push their way into the factory for themselves; each one represents a family. The numbers affected by these decisions runs into thousands. I wonder if the receiver gave a thought to any of them or is that also one of the handbook’s suggestions “be totally indifferent to the human suffering emotional or physical”. How many children were put to bed this weekend without Mum or Dad because they were forced to sit in at the factory? How many family trips or events were cancelled because of it? I’d go so far as to guess there was even a birthday celebration or two that had to be postponed. These were weekends that they will never get back. How many children, despite parents’ best efforts, are currently feeling the unease in a household that might be on the verge of losing its income? (And of course on that note we spare a thought for all the other people facing job losses in light of this recession.)
There is also the reality that Waterford Crystal impacts us all a little more than any other local factory closure. While job losses are never welcome, there is the bigger picture of the Waterford Crystal brand moving away from Waterford. The intrinsic value of the brand and the factory being physically here has a hidden impact on the local economy that many of us take for granted. Internationally there are only two Irish brands of distinction: Guinness and Waterford Crystal. You have to wonder how the government would react were Guinness to move all manufacturing and its visitor centre out of Dublin!
Of course looking at the present lot in Dail Eireann it would be hard to second guess anything. If we look at the country as just a large Waterford Crystal and the average citizen as the disgruntled worker we can draw many parallels. As ‘Ireland’ we were a totally viable product for almost twenty years but it turns out our viability was an illusion; a house of cards. Despite the prosperity, the advances, the entrepreneurial spirit we saved nothing; we didn’t put anything into an emergency fund, blew the pension fund and eventually, like the foolish virgins in the biblical parable, we ran out of oil at a crucial time and were caught short. For those who are ultimately in charge the consequences seem to be few; an uncomfortable press conference or two and a 10% pay cut. Wouldn’t everyone in the country be happy with a 10% pay cut if they thought their job was secure?
And so all we can do is hope for a good solution at Waterford Crystal and in the bigger scheme of things also. I can tell you that fear of unemployment, indeed, fear of anything, is often worse than the actual unemployment itself although I hope, for all involved, that it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime we could all do with remembering that treating people with respect makes the world a nicer place to live in, whether it’s at home, at school, at work or out in the community. And it’s easy – all you have to do is treat people the way you would like them to treat you. This should definitely be included in the Receiver’s Handbook.