Being laid off - the musical

Well finally my time has come around. Outside my infamous "Reginald Perrin" stint in London over 01-02, I've worked in about 4 jobs in Ireland since I fell out of teaching music and into IT in July 2000. One common feature of all of these jobs has been the almost annual redundancy round and eventual closedown or partial closedown. In fact only one of the concerns (many of them household names) is still a going concern, with the 4th, which I'm still working for, just about on the line.

Anyway we got told a couple of weeks ago that our jobs are - as they euphemistically put it - "at risk." What the hell is "at risk?" Does it mean that your job isn't necessary? Or that you are not pulling your weight? Not at all, what it really is appears to be a kind of convenient limbo status into which employees can be put while going through the process of either looking for ways to mitigate the redundancy process. At least thats what we are told.
But "at risk" increasingly, in a globalized environment, is no longer the real truth regarding job loss processes. What "at risk" really means, in todays world, is that either the business situation locally is so problematic that some or all of a particular job type is no longer required (or the business will suffer if it is retained), or that an "opportunity" to steal business-speak has occured to identify a cheaper, nastier offshore location to which the job can be conveniently relocated. And crazily, the Irish taxpayer has to actually subsidise the latter, by law, as moving a job out of the state, even to another EU location, is still considered "redundancy." So we no longer have real redundancies - we have genuine redundancies, and opportunistic exploitation of a generous tax rebate for unscrupulous employers.

The whole "at risk" status really is a deeply unfair legal status for employees, unless there is a selection process or voluntary system at play. The reality for many, is if an entire category suddenly become "at risk" it seems that somebody somewhere has already eliminated those positions, or translocated them elsewhere. So what results is a horrible and unecessary process whereby employees are left in limbo until the actual 30 days notice occurs.

But it gets worse. Employees are thrown now, by law, into compulsory consultation processes that are painful, destructive, open doors to underhand wheeling and dealing, and actually harm the open and honest nature of laying people off. Outside of collective bargaining scenarios, where there is an established forum and process for debating the best needs of as many employees as possible, this process is at best, disingenuous and at worst, a great moment for backstabbing and backbiting. Employers all too frequently setup the illusion of negotiation, and that situations can be saved or mitigated, often where the decision has already been made in concrete fashion by another business unit elsewhere. This is especially unfair on representatives, who are forced to negotiate in good faith with employers who have no such good faith, but are merely going through the motions of creating the illusions of a fair and meaningful process while in reality being under the thumb of another decision maker elsewhere.

It would help if the law required that only the absolute decision makers could engage in the consultation process. This would force companies to engage decision makers at the raw level of having to face the actual people that are being made redundant instead of hiding behind a cloud of fake negotiations and pretend consultation. This only engenders deep mistrust in other employees, and costs the company time and money in setting up what can often be a farce that takes a lot of energy out of employees who frankly could be better off job hunting.

I have seen too many rounds in my place to pretend that anything can be done to "mitigate" the circumstances. Round after round occured where the worst always came through. The pretence of consultation resulted only in deep and bitter battles between employees who were torn between selfish self-interested opportunistic backstabbing, those who accepted the situation, and those who genuinely believed that they were given a chance to work together with management to find a solution. More often than not, this is a mere musical in which employees are forced to play roles and have to play along an unfair, dishonest and distrustful game in which they are always going to be the losers.


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