LATE ON 6 February 2013, five days after I had marked seven years as a staff member of the financial institution formerly known as Anglo Irish Bank, I was made redundant.
It was not in the manner in which one normally expects to be made redundant. In this case the whole country watched as I and 800 people working for Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) in the Republic were effectively sacked. IBRC was liquidated in a bid to abolish the promissory note arrangement, we had become collateral damage.
As the last staff member vacated our office on what became known as ‘promnight’ the liquidator, KMPG, moved in. Staff arrived the following morning having had our contracts terminated as we slept but judging from appearances not many of us had slept, we’d been consumed with shock, anger and, worst of all, fear.
As if to underline that this was no ordinary redundancy, first details of the impact liquidation was going to have on us ordinary staff came not from within the bank but the media which became our lifeline.
We learned that while our contracts were terminated we would be entitled to statutory redundancy and that many staff would be re-employed by NAMA but this now looks doubtful. Our colleagues in Belfast and London would retain their employment as the government’s late night legislation was not legal in the United Kingdom. KPMG was to offer one month rolling contracts to all staff which has now been extended for another three months to August 2013.
Project Red, as the promissory note deal had become known internally, had been in the pipeline for 15 months yet we were only briefed on its impact after the fact and we are still learning new elements of it almost weekly.
‘Always knew our days were numbered’
As employees of IBRC we were always aware that our days were numbered, the bank was always going to be wound down and we have been effectively working ourselves out of a job. But we did not expect it to be this soon, nor in this manner.
In September 2011 an agreed redundancy package was signed off by the bank, and government and Troika with the input and agreement of our union the Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA). The headline terms of this redundancy package were 4 weeks’ base pay per year of service (inclusive of statutory redundancy entitlement).
It had been envisaged that these terms would apply in respect of redundancies made by the bank over the following five years, subject to an annual review and on the basis that there was no unforeseen budgetary deterioration. In the event that compulsory redundancies would be deemed necessary, it was proposed that the terms set out would apply to any such redundancies.
As part of the 2011 Voluntary Redundancy Scheme there were areas within the bank which were restricted from applying for this package as these areas were seen as critical to the wind down programme. My department, which manages the recovery of loans, was one of those restricted but I and my colleagues took comfort from the clause which stated that should compulsory redundancies be seen as necessary the terms of the scheme would apply to us.
This clause would have seen me entitled to a package of €20,000 inclusive of statutory redundancy. With liquidation, the government has now defaulted on this agreement. Now we’ve told that we will only get statutory redundancy which for me is a cut of 54 per cent.
The biggest problem for me and fellow employees has been the silence from the liquidator. For six weeks we had no word from KPMG on the status of our pensions, we were told that it was awaiting consultation with Mercer Ireland. But Mercer confirmed directly to staff that it had not received payment from the bank for January or February’s pension payment. We’ve since learned via human resources – not the liquidator – that our pensions are safe.
The resounding silence from the liquidators and their recent appointment as receiver to Thomas Crosbie Holdings has further confounded IBRC employees. Surely managing the biggest liquidation in the history of the State would be priority for KPMG? Instead on the day it was appointed to TCH it cancelled a meeting – via text message – with IBOA officials that had been scheduled to discuss the welfare of 800 staff.
Not looking for public sympathy
Having been made redundant on ‘promnight’ we’ve effectively been re-employed by KPMG due to necessity to achieve a return for the taxpayer but have been prevented from applying for the now non-existent voluntary redundancy scheme.
We are told that we are critical to the offloading of IBRC’s loan book. Yet as soon as that happens, we’ll all be out of the job and in the meantime our quest to find alternative employment has been hindered by the alleged reluctance of other financial institutions to hire or even view ex-IBRC employees CVs’. I have even seen an email sent to a colleague from a recruitment agent stating that one bank was not accepting referrals in relation to ex-IBRC staff. The assumed reasoning behind this is that the liquidators cannot afford to lose employees at this time.
I am not looking for public sympathy but rather stating the facts of how there was an agreement put in place that in the event of compulsory redundancies a package would be provided for the staff and a provision for same had been made in the company accounts. But this has now been reneged on.
It’s a dangerous precedent to set, by a government, whose own ministers have been critical of private companies who do not respect their workers’ rights. In effect what has happened to IBRC staff is as bad as any treatment perpetrated by a private company.
Staff morale is low, employees’ mental and physical heath is at risk. We’ve lost a lot of trust from clients who we’d worked hard with to build-up trust after the collapse of Anglo in 2008. Now with liquidation we are back to where we were, battling to get the borrowers back on side in a bid to ensure that loan repayments are kept up.
All we’re looking for is a fair deal. The government has reneged on a promise and that makes it a lot harder to keep our promise to ensure a fair recovery of money on behalf of the taxpayer. We are not looking to challenge the IBRC Act in any way, in fact under the legislation Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has the power to overturn the reneging of our right to a fair redundancy scheme.
In the past two weeks creditors of IBRC, solicitors and receivers, are now viewed as being ‘in duress’ and are being paid for their services by the liquidator. Are we, the ordinary workers, not also ‘in duress’ as we look to recover the money taxpayers are owed?
The author of this article works in Recovery Management for Irish Bank Resolution Corporation. Their identity is known to TheJournal.ie.
TheJournal.ie approached the special liquidators at IBRC for a comment on the issues raised in this article but there was no response at the time of publication.