herald

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Andrew Lynch: Not much could be done to save Pfizer jobs -- how the Government reacts now is what's important

When a boat springs a leak, the best solution is to bail out the water as fast as it starts coming in. That's exactly the response the Government needs to adopt in the face of the country's growing employment crisis.

The loss of up to 785 jobs at Pfizer is undeniably a personal tragedy for the workers involved -- but instead of indulging in a pointless blame game, our priority now must be to ensure that Ireland remains an attractive destination for foreign companies with money to invest.



begged

With wearying predictability, the opposition parties have tried to create the impression that every one of these employees could have been saved if the Government had just begged their bosses a little harder.

The reality is that Brian Cowen, Brian Lenihan and Mary Coughlan all met Pfizer bosses officials within the past year and were told politely but firmly that the company's global restructuring programme meant that redundancies were inevitable.

From the moment they bought out their rival drug company Wyeth for $68bn (€55bn), it was signalled that staff numbers worldwide would be reduced by 15pc.

Yesterday's announcement has symbolic value because the pharmaceuticals industry was one of the great success stories of the Celtic Tiger.

For many Irish people, it was a source of pride (and no little amusement) that the wonder drug Viagra was manufactured on our shores.

The arrival of cheaper and more generic drugs on the market, however, means that from now on copies will be made in cheaper locations -- which inevitably involves the closure of some plants and the loss of some jobs.

There is not a huge amount that the Irish Government can do about this. But politicians have a duty to come up with a jobs strategy that will ensure those workers find new employment as quickly as possible.

That strategy must be two-pronged. First, people must be given the retraining they need that will make them attractive to new employers.

Second, everything possible must be done to reduce the costs involved in setting up new companies. It sounds simple -- but until we get those basics right, the dark days of mass unemployment and emigration are set to continue for many years to come.

The signs coming out of Government Buildings these days are not exactly encouraging. Brian Cowen announced the creation of an unemployment taskforce as long ago as January 2009, but it has met once.

In an interview last week the Taoiseach said that job creation is "the laser beam we need to look at", which is exactly the kind of meaningless jargon that causes so many people to despair of his leadership.

It would be much more reassuring to hear a cast-iron guarantee from Cowen (and the opposition) that he will firmly slap down all attempts by the European Union to raise Ireland's corporate tax rate.

This issue has taken on new relevance in light of last week's revelation that from now on the EU Commission wants to vet every country's budget before it is presented to parliament.



trouble

If that's the start of a process to harmonise tax rates across Europe, it spells big trouble for us -- because whether they're popular or not, low business taxes gave Ireland the competitive advantage it needed to secure vital investment from multinationals such as Pfizer.

In the midst of a global recession, asking the Government to save every single job is completely unrealistic. What we can ask them to do is to be much more pro-active in their approach to job creation.

As hard as it might be to imagine now, the international recovery will come -- and when it does, small countries such as this one must be ready to take full advantage.

Ireland Inc may have sprung a leak. As long as the crew start bailing instead of panicking, however, there's no reason why the ship should sink.

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