For years we’ve heard so much of the working culture in companies like Google and Twitter. About how they were more like family than workplaces. It was cool. It was groovy. Beers in the fridge. No need to go home for dinner stay here and have free food. Keep working but don’t be afraid to lay a game of ping pong or use our sleep
Pods for 20 minutes before getting back to work. Here’s a t-shirt. It was all laid in front of us and accepted.
The recent round of layoffs in the tech sector globally, and more importantly, the manner in which they were done, has stripped bare the once cuddly tech bro image of the sector and makes it all the more important for collective bargaining and trade unions to be strengthened. Irish laws have delayed and mitigated some of the style of layoffs but an injury to one is the concern of many, we cannot look at Tik Toks and Instagram posts of tearful Google employees having been brutally stripped of credentials at 3am in an email and cast out of employment at the click of a button.
Now is the time for trade unions to bolster their numbers and strength not just in tech but across all sectors. We only need to look to the United Kingdom to see the industrial unrest swarming all sectors because eight an intransigent and oblivious Tory government. Balloting is being considered and underway in some
Unions here in Ireland, especially in health as the now year round trolley crisis impacts patients and staff on a daily basis. We need strong trade unions to buttress against poor standards but unions are only as strong as their members.
As our Labour Party colleague Senator Marie Sherlock, who our spokesperson on worker’s rights said when the tech layoffs began:
“While political leaders were quick to be present for photocalls with Twitter, I hope they are just as quick to remind Twitter and all other companies of their legal responsibilities with regard to collective redundancies.
“The treatment of workers by certain tech companies in recent days is cruel and appalling but it is not surprising. No matter how many of these companies try to cloak the reality of industrial relations in their workplaces by using gimmicks and the veneer of workplace democracy, the harsh truth is that respect in the workplace place starts with workers joining a trade union. Many of these companies are stridently anti-union, and we can now see why, as they seek to discard loyal workers.
“The manner in which Twitter’s new owner is treating employees must now be a wake up call to all workers that working with others to protect yourself and joining a union is absolutely crucial.
The other reality today is that two and half years on from Debenhams, despite lots and lots of promises, the Government has yet to make good its commitment to improving collective redundancy legislation in this country in the event of a liquidation. That specific issue does not impact on Twitter but there are plenty other tech, retail and hospitality companies located here who are now facing the harsh winds of a downturn this Winter and Spring
Under the 1977 Protection of Employees act, the whole point of the 30 day consultation period is that the status quo is retained and under Irish employment law, employers have no contractual right to lock workers out. The actions by Twitter shows a disgraceful and blatant disregard for the workers themselves and for Irish labour law.
It’s also worth noting that the State via the State Investment Fund has invested €100m in tech companies of 2021 with €42m alone going into Stripe. The State can and must do all it can to prevent the indecent dumping of jobs across the tech industry.”
In recent years, the Labour Party has identified the need for the state to diversify our economy more generally. There is an excessive reliance on foreign direct investment for high value, high paying jobs. While we want to see Ireland remain an attractive location for FDI, the overall industrial policy approach needs to change.
A new industrial strategy for Ireland must focus on adding value to our indigenous enterprise space and in helping Irish enterprises to scale-up, become more productive and be more export-orientated. As a country we need to get serious on developing a new national industrial policy that will continue to ensure that we can attract the kind of high quality foreign direct investment but also grow our indigenous enterprise base.
Now is the time to get involved even more in your union or join up if you’ve never been in one. Don’t let a generation become distracted by baubles being hung by the modern day William Martin Murphys of this world. Voice your issues, seek solutions and speak with one voice, the worker’s voice. And make sure that transitions to political action also to ensure union demands are met. Unions protect families in our communities that are keeping our lights on, nursing us back to health, ensuring we get where we need to go on the bus and train and that we have supplies in our shops. We stood and clapped on the pandemic for all these workers, now is the time to stand up for all