A GROUP OF former workers from the Dublin office of HW Wilson are to protest at an event hosted by the American conglomerate Ebsco next week over a redundancy pay dispute.
The ex-employees of HW Wilson are fighting for a redundancy package which was recommended by the Labour Court in Ireland but disregarded by Ebsco when it took over the publishing business and laid off its entire Dublin staff last summer.
The workers are planning to stage a peaceful demonstration next Tuesday at Clontarf Castle ahead of an Ebsco Publishing information day.
The 40 staff members who were made redundant in July 2011 received the statutory minimum of two weeks per year of service even though the Labour Court recommended a package of four weeks pay per year of service.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, a representative for the workers Gillian Fallon said the group were aware that Ebsco fulfilled its legal obligations but they believe their right to a meaningful consultation was not adhered to.
A case has also been brought in front of the LRC’s Rights Commissioner as the collective redundancy meant that the company were legally bound to carry out a meaningful set of discussions surrounding the lay-offs, something the workers feel was not adhered to.
In January this year, a group of 19 took the case to the Labour Court as they were “very aggrieved” by the treatment received by all staff after the merger.
“There was no negotiation and no discussion on the money issue despite HW Wilson being sold as a going concern,” explains Fallon, adding that most of the workers had worked for the firm for at least 13 years. “It is also very unusual for any solvent company to pay redundant workers the bare minimum.”
Of the 40 staff remaining when the deal was finalised with Ebsco in 2011, the majority were highly-skilled professionals with education up to PhD and Masters levels. Wilsons, which was an American company set up in 1898, published specialised materials for libraries and universities. Although it had started to decline in terms of staff number in the early part of the 20002, Ebsco continues to sell products under the brand name.
Fallon believes that during a consultation – if a meaningful one had been held – the possibilities of shifting into jobs at Ebsco could have been raised given that the work is done remotely.
The workers have tried to communicate directly with the company’s management to appeal to them to pay the package recommended by the Irish court but to no avail.
“After weeks of trying to get their attention, we decided we would start an online petition,” Fallon told us. “Altogether the redundancies in the Dublin office only cost them about €180,000 as they were able to claim the 60 per cent rebate on the statutory payments.”
They also want to highlight that Ebsco have completely flouted an Irish court.
Unfortunately, although the recommendation was issued in January 2012, Ebsco and their representatives opted first to simply ignore it and then to refuse outright to abide by it.
“[They] seem to have assumed that Irish workers and Irish institutions could be ignored without consequences. Their mistake was to underestimate the spirit of the workers and their many supporters at home and abroad,” says another former worker Tom Dwyer.
All we want is for Ebsco to abide by the Labour Court decision. When a company behaves as Ebsco is doing now, it disrespects Irish institutions, Irish workers, and the traditionally close relationship between America and Ireland.
Although the group hasn’t heard from management yet, it has received a solicitor’s letter seeking a promise that they would not picket outside the event next Tuesday. They were threatened with injunctions if this pledge was not made.
Fallon is quick to point out that the group wish to do nothing illegal and will not be picketing on Tuesday. “It will be peaceful protest,” she says, adding that the Gardaí will be informed that they will be there with fliers and banners. ”It is not a picket as that would be illegal.”
Fallon said the workers have received strong support from various unions in Ireland, including Siptu, as well as the Vita Cortex workers who have just ended a mammoth sit-in at their employer’s old factory to ensure they were paid redundancy owed to them.
They have also received backing from a number of TDs, including Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Gerry Adams. The issue has been mentioned in the Dáil as part of the debate on amendments to the Protection of Employees Bill.
Adams referred to a number of companies, including HW Wilson, where “workers are having their rights trampled upon”.
The protest will take place from 11am to 1pm outside Clontarf Castle on 15 May. The group will then move to the Dáil where they will meet with a number of politicians who support their cause.
Ebsco’s New York headquarters were also closed after the merger in June 2011, resulting in more job losses. The firm declined to comment on the ongoing case.
Read: the workers’ blog here>