Saturday 16 December 2017

'The future's bright,' said company... then axed 87 without pay 14 days later

'This was an insult to a loyal workforce before Christmas'

Maria Clarke (lt) and Gosia Vorkowski (rt) pictured with colleagues outside The Acuman Facilities Management offices at Swords Business Campus yesterday.
Maria Clarke (lt) and Gosia Vorkowski (rt) pictured with colleagues outside The Acuman Facilities Management offices at Swords Business Campus yesterday.

EIGHTY-seven workers who lost their jobs at a Dublin services firm revealed they were told by a director the company faced "exciting developments...to grow the business" just 14 days before it closed.

Acuman Services Management workers in Swords said they were "shocked and bitterly disappointed" to discover their jobs were being axed just days after the positive e-mail was circulated.

That e-mail, issued on October 10 by director Wilton Farrelly, said the firm had recruited new staff, revamped its structures and begun special training to help grow the operation.


"Just a quick update e-mail to keep you informed about the exciting developments that have happened in Acuman over the last number of weeks...," it read.

"Our work together between our businesses has only just started and I appreciate the support and enthusiasm that everyone has shown to date."

"We are all looking forward to continuing to develop and grow our business."

The Swords-based firm provided corporate support to other companies and clients included Bus Eireann, Asda and TK Maxx.

A subsidiary of Belfast-based H&J Martin, it closed last Friday with the loss of all 87 jobs.

Tom Kavanagh of Deloitte has now been appointed as liquidator.

"The news that the firm was going into liquidation came out of the blue - it was a total shock," Maria Clarke told the Herald.

"We had absolutely no inkling that Acuman was going to close. There is one girl here who left a job of eight years to join the firm at the end of September. She hasn't even been paid yet," she said.

Some staff have been with the firm for almost 10 years.

Maria said it was particularly disappointing that the closure was confirmed on Friday when only a skeleton staff were present due to the Bank Holiday weekend.

She claimed some employees are still awaiting formal notification that their jobs are gone.

The October payroll has not been issued and workers have no idea if they will ever receive wages for their work this month up to the firm's closure.

Another employee, Sarah Skeffington, said staff felt they had been treated in an insulting fashion - and left without a job and income just weeks before Christmas.

"It is a terrible way to treat a loyal and dedicated workforce," she said.

"People are very upset over the way in which the whole thing was handled. Workers here depended on those wages."

Acuman Facilities Management was established in 1997 before being acquired by the H&J Martin Group in 2009.

H&J Martin, which was founded in 1840, said it had invested in the company during the economic downturn and restructured senior management.

Belfast-based director Wilton Farrelly was out of the office and could not be contacted by the Herald. A company spokesman declined to comment on the October 10 e-mail.

H&J Martin said they had decided to appoint a liquidator because Acuman was "unsustainable and unable to continue trading".

"The appointment of a liquidator to Acuman Facilities Management is regrettably unavoidable given the collapse of the business's finances in recent years," Derek Martin, joint managing director, said.


"Despite significant investment of over €2m (£1.6m) in the business by its parent company and a recent restructuring of its senior management, the business is simply not economically viable."

Belfast Telegraph economist John Simpson revealed earlier this year that annual turnover at H&J Martin had nearly doubled in the last six reported years. Following a fall in turnover in 2006, there had been a series of year-on-year increases until the total stabilised in 2012.

The company has worked on high-profile projects including the construction of a media centre for the London Olympics and refurbishment of the Guildhall and Ebrington Barracks for Derry's 2013 City of Culture.

H&J Martin employs around 370 people.


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