Sunday 19 January 2020

Taking up the gauntlet

Following the devastating news from Pfizer that 785 more people will join a dole queue which already surpasses 400,000, we must ask: what can be done to create or protect jobs?

The families and individuals concerned have the sympathy of the nation, but sympathy does not put food on the table.

Economists will tell you that while democracy is local, capitalism is global, and therefore voting for change is not enough to insulate economies -- or far more importantly, populations -- from the aftershocks of seismic shifts in corporate power.

Thus, when Wyeth and Pfizer joined forces, there had to be collateral damage and the impact of that is being felt by families in Cork Dun Laoghaire and Newbridge this morning.

Governments are powerless to prevent such mergers but they can play a significant role in influencing their consequences.

Much faith has been justly placed in the pharmaceutical sector as a fertile area for future employment and there are good reasons for this. It is essential that highly-trained and experienced workers are not forced to leave the country.

During the boom years, there was a burgeoning cottage industry in producing reports detailing how we needed to re-balance and restructure. Expensive studies were commissioned which warned of the consequences of a failure to address problems with our infrastructure and the need for efficiencies and economies in the public and private sectors. Education was the breakwater that would keep us safe when the storm broke.

Such advice was received with enthusiasm, but the reports were then promptly consigned to the basement area of Government Buildings in Merrion Square, Dublin, where some day they will no doubt make for good reading material for a PhD on how to go from boom to bust at breakneck speed.

If we are truly serious about getting back into the slipstream of world trade then we must make ourselves fit for the game.

The labour market is no different to any other. Jobs will go to the most attractive offer.

The Government should be using every spare cent at its disposal to guarantee that Ireland remains a first port of call when it comes to international investment.

This translates into: better services, better education, better roads and better public transport. There is nothing revolutionary about any of this: this newspaper has been urging such improvement for years. It is imperative that we position ourselves to take advantage of the global recovery. This demands muscular engagement with the public finances.

It also demands that unions, employers, and the government be on the same page in focussing on a positive outlook from which all will benefit. Collectively, we have to do more with less; that is the gauntlet the global downturn has thrown at our feet.

Irish Independent

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