Saturday, 24 January 2009

A Wake-up Call

The biggest news in Jersey recently has to be the controversial closure of our much-loved Woolworth's store. Due to the lack of the competitors in the same lines of merchandise locally, our own branch had not suffered the slumping sales of the mainland chain, but was just dragged down by them. That much is simple real-life economics, but the fate of the staff has darker aspects.

Firstly, it appears that the liquidators have wilfully flouted Jersey employment law, by dismissing the workforce with neither notice nor payment in lieu. Perhaps, as English accountants winding up an English firm, they feel that they are beyond the reach of Jersey's courts, and may even be right to think so. This is at least a cruel moral injustice, and probably a statutory crime, and any steps, that can be taken to enforce the law and punish its breach, should be vigorously pursued by our authorities.

On the other hand, though, the said liquidators have sheltered behind the letter of the local law, to exclude Jersey staff from the redundancy payments that have been made to those losing their jobs on the mainland. Obviously, this is technically not a crime. It is, however, another cruel moral injustice that reflects only shame and disgrace on its perpetrators.

In the face of forceful lobbying by various interested or sympathetic parties, our local parliament, The States, have considered the matter. Typically, they shelved it in a vote neatly split into the pseudo-party of right-wing “independents” who have long held power, and the slightly smaller pseudo-party of less cynical others, including the one real party operating in our impoverished democracy. The vote at least puts in black and white who is who in the newly elected house. Those of us who do not love the “establishment” can see that we need to pick out five or six of their people, who might be open to persuasion, to shift the balance of power. Looking at the names, though, that will be much harder to actually do than it is to prescribe.
In the immediate future, the other lesson, to learn from this unhappy scandal ,is that Jersey needs to introduce redundancy laws equal to the rest of the English-speaking world as a matter of urgency. It may be possible, if politically difficult, to make some kind of one-off provision for the Woolworth's people. The real need, though, is to get satisfactory arrangements in place before the financial tsunami of the global downturn has swept away many more jobs. There is serious work for our politicians to do here.