June 2014        

Welcome to the new Ireland

Last year Valeant Pharmaceuticals Ltd of Canada took over Bausch and Lomb, manufacturers of the famous aviator glasses, for €6.4 billion. Its plant in Waterford, which makes contact lenses, has been there for about thirty years and employs 1,100 people.
      On the morning of Thursday 29 May, workers were called to the canteen and told that the new owners wanted 200 redundancies, and a 20 per cent cut in wages for the remainder. The choice was either to accept or Valeant would shut the factory and move the whole operation to the parent factory in New York. Accept, or else.
      Average earnings at the Waterford factory are €35,000. Already workers are at their limits with all the new taxes, and the rain tax in the offing. A 20 per cent pay cut is more than most can afford. It is quite clear that, regardless of whether the offer is accepted or not, the closure of the factory is on the agenda.
      Valeant is an asset-stripper. It bought Bausch and Lomb for access to its markets and its brands. It intends recouping the cost by savage cuts in the work force and stripping the value the workers put into the company.
      The announcement of the cuts was carefully timed. Valeant waited until after the local and EU elections to deliver another body-blow to Waterford, which already has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Richard Bruton was well aware of the Valeant plan but made sure the news was covered up until the elections were out of the way.
      Bruton wants this to be a low-wage economy. He is certainly succeeding.
      Some workers who recently took on mortgages on the strength of Bausch and Lomb’s thirty years in the city had to hand the keys back to the banks on Friday morning.
      Meanwhile at NAMA (average wage €70,000+ to manage the debt scheme) they’re looking for pay increases for the staff vital to operating pens, cursors, and spreadsheets, rather than actually producing anything.
      Welcome to the New Ireland.

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