by Frank Schnittger
Thu Mar 4th, 2010 at 06:02:08 AM EST
I understand that a unanimous agreement to end the Green Isle Hunger strike was signed at 8.00 a.m. today after all night talks. I have no details on the deal and it has yet to be reported in the national media. Indeed there has been something of a media black-out on the issue with TV3 announcing (at 9.00 pm last night) that they would deal with the issue on Vincent Browne's 11.00pm show, and then there was suddenly no mention of it on the show.
No Irish newspaper published my letter to the Editor or any other letter on the topic and other newspaper coverage has often led with the management line that this was all about pornography. Drury Communications, the corporate PR agency who are extraordinarily well connected in Irish business and politics can take a bow, particularly Paddy Hughes who never delivered on his promise to me of an interview with management!
Drury Communications - Our People
Paddy Hughes Director
Driven and determined, Paddy brings a tangible sense that he cares and that it matters to every client situation he enters; with Paddy it is always `we'. His business focus is corporate reputation management and financial PR. An Offaly native and Kildare resident, Paddy has been part of the Drury team for almost 15 years, during which he has been a pivotal player in some of the most exciting developments in Irish business. Since 2003 he has put his commitment to PR to use as a member of the National Council of the Public Relations Institute and 2008 saw Paddy elected as National President; however he insists that throwing rose petals in his wake is purely optional.
It is likely that any agreement signed will include a confidentiality clause so the details may never be publicly known. Let us hope that John Recto, the third hunger striker, will be successful in fighting his expulsion from Ireland and that all of the hunger strikers and strikers can recover their health and dignity and get on with their lives. I for one, will never be buying Green Isle products again. We need companies like this in Ireland like we need hole in the head. They have put our whole industrial relations infrastructure and social cohesion at risk.
My thanks to all who helped keep this story alive in the face of almost overwhelming odds in the small and incestuous media circus that masquerades as the fourth estate in Ireland.
All e-mails by me to Northern Foods are currently being bounced on the grounds that they contain "inappropriate content". Seeing they don't want to hear from me in private, I hereby publish, as an open Letter, my e-mail to Stefan Barden, Chief Executive, Northern Foods PLC.
Dear Mr. Barden,
I have removed all reference to your Company's name in Ireland in this e-mail as your spam filters appear to regard your Brand name in Ireland as "inappropriate content" - I'm sure you will regard this as ironic in the circumstances!
Now that the dispute is resolved, perhaps you will take the time to consider the management issues raised by the dispute. I enclose below a letter I have written to various newspapers which sets out the issues from an Irish industrial relations and public policy point of view. I think you seriously need to reconsider your business model if wish to continue to operate successfully in Ireland.
Letter to the Editor:
In my 25 years as a manager in increasingly senior human resources, corporate communications and information technology management positions in Ireland and the UK it was always part of the culture that you took responsibility for what went wrong on your watch.
It seems Northern Foods PLC operates to a different philosophy. Two of their employees are currently on hunger strike - to be joined by a third on Wednesday - in protest against the dismissal of six of their colleagues in defiance of an Irish Labour Court ruling that they should be reinstated or compensated.
What happened is that management inadvertently gave their employees access to confidential corporate information and also failed to put spam filters in place to prevent inappropriate e-mails entering their inboxes. Some of those unsolicited e-mails - from an anonymous British source, turned out to have adult content hidden in attached files.
Most companies would be extremely apologetic to their employees and shareholders for allowing this to happen, but not, apparently, Northern foods. They sacked six of the engineering workers who had previously accessed the confidential corporate information (which included a plan to terminate 6 engineering jobs) out of the many staff who had received the offending e-mails - including one employee who received but never forwarded any of the offending e-mails
In the meantime their employees, Jim Wyse and John Guinan, are in the third and second weeks of their hunger strike respectively, whilst the manager who is in charge of the IT and audit functions responsible for these horrendous security lapses now spends his time doing media interviews accusing the dismissed employees of "downloading porn" when they didn't even have internet access nor control over what unsolicited e-mails could enter their inboxes.
He is also the author of the management report into the debacle which, perhaps unsurprisingly, recommended that the employees be disciplined rather than drawing the obvious conclusion that, if anybody should be dismissed, it should be the report author as the manager responsible.
The Irish operation is a subsidiary of Northern Foods PLC which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and which has been dramatically underperforming the market since January - perhaps because investors have become aware of the 840,000 member Irish Congress of Trade Unions call for a boycott of all Northern Foods products including Goodfellas and San Marco Pizzas, Fox's Biscuits, Donegal Catch fish dishes, Grassington's meals and Holland's Pork Pies.
If that call for a boycott is also adopted by the 7 Million strong British Trade Union Congress as requested, the outlook for Northern Foods looks grim. Perhaps then some Northern Foods executives will be forced to take some accountability for their own negligence and stop the defamation of their employees as pedlars of porn and their scape-goating for accessing confidential corporate files not intended for them.
Turning down offers of mediation from the labour Relations Commission and seeking to exacerbate a dispute whilst claiming to be trying to resolve it is a strange human resources management tactic, and the Company might also review their human resources management policy in the light of having lost two other Labour Court determinations and one Employment Appeals Tribunal case recently.
The quality of our industrial relations institutions has stood Ireland in good stead in recent decades, and at this time of national emergency, the last thing we need to do is to destroy the national and social cohesion those institutions have fostered. Forcing employees into a hunger strike to vindicate their right to be represented by their union and protected by the institutions of the Irish state is not the way forward.
Update on Nothern Foods share price:
The red line is the relevant FTSE250 index and the blue line is Northern Foods.