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Stop fighting for scraps and set our sights higher

By Staff Reporter

One wonders what it costs Invest NI to attract 235 jobs to these shores — in both time and money — but it’s fairly clear that it doesn’t come cheap. On the other hand, it clearly costs virtually nothing at all for a company employing that number of people — as with HCL in Armagh — to up sticks and disappear.

This morning, due to the international job market fluctuations in which they have no part, hundreds of Armagh families wake this morning with a visit to the dole office on their mind.

Of course, Invest NI’s marketing pitch for Northern Ireland has emphasised the lack of labour market discord and competitive wages — in common parlance, no trade unions and cheap pay. In HCL’s case that translated into a deal just one year ago under which staff took a drastic cut to their terms and conditions of employment.

But it can hardly be a surprise to anyone to discover that companies which come here in search of a pliant workforce and bottom-of-the-pile salaries, move on as soon as they get a better deal elsewhere.

The lesson for Invest NI must be that if you are competing on cost, there will always be someone — in  Sunderland perhaps, or Krakow, or Bangalore — who will be wiling to work for less.

And if that’s the case, it’s time the government stopped fighting for scraps and instead directed its massive jobs budget to skilling up the workforce so that it can compete for jobs much further up the international ‘food chain’.

At this stage, HCL remains committed to its Belfast operation but history tells us that employers who are enticed here by large Invest NI grants usually move on after a decade or so.

In which case HCL is only conforming to a pattern which will continue until our economic proposition for foreign direct investment changes.

And in the meantime, government should note that while being lowest on price of labour may, in our globalized world, make you competitive today, there will always be someone willing to work for even less tomorrow.


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