Facilitating Corporate Tax Avoidance is at Heart of What is Wrong

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Here we have two investigative pieces in the Irish Times and the Guardian which show that jobs created by MNCs in Ireland are not necessarily the high quality, well paid types of jobs those defending Ireland’s tax avoidance system claim. The first illustrates that most of these are call centre jobs created to provide tech support for sales that may be registered in Ireland but are in fact generated in countries within and beyond Europe, Africa and the Middle East. As they require language skills far greater than even very well educated Irish workers normally have (Ireland has one of the lowest proficiencies in a second language in the OECD ironically enough) these are not jobs created for those who have been through the Irish education system. This is despite the fact that we are told that it’s not tax that attracts these companies but our well educated workforce. Again, this is attractive and is a credit to Ireland’s high level of completion at second level which is well above the EU average, but it’s being undermined and many of the skills that these companies require are in law and accountancy which narrows considerably the ability of people to think beyond the servicing of MNCs law and accountancy needs. It is hardly a coincidence that Cathy Kearney, which the Guardian describes as Apple’s ‘top lieutenant in Ireland’ is an accountant.

The Guardian piece on Apple also shows that for many of the jobs created the pay is less than average for those in Apple. Again they are mostly sales support staff requiring language skills well beyond the scope of the average Leaving Cert student or Irish marketing graduate.

 “Apple’s Cork site employs large numbers of foreign workers, many employed in call centres dealing with technical-support queries raised in their home countries. Recent Cork job adverts show vacancies for a Spanish payroll analyst, Nordic customer relations adviser, Norwegian Apple specialist, Russian fraud analyst and a German Agreement admin adviser.

Staff at what Cook calls “our campus in Cork” earned less than the average for Apple, though Harvard professor Stephen Shay has calculated that 2011 profit per employee at the Cork site was more than $9m.”

Ireland is now being seen as a country that provides extraordinary benefits to many, but not exclusively US MNCs and asks for only the minimum in return. The jobs created although in their thousands are a fig leaf, not as well paid as we are led to imagine, are not costed in terms of the grants for employing people and tax concessions on income tax provided and can be removed at any time should the company decide to relocate part of its operation. In recent years the number of IDA supported jobs created matched those lost.

As the Apple and Google stories illustrate some of the companies that are created here have no employees at all, which illustrates that much of Ireland’s support for so called manufacturing FDI is not that much different to its support of an international financial services sector with its brass plate operations.

With the Irish government reducing its capital budget and investment in infrastructure Industrial policy is now exclusively based on tax concessions alone. I agree with Shiela Killian when she argued in the Guardian piece that “whatever the modest benefits to Knocknaheeny, Cork and Ireland, business-friendly tax policies can having a corrosive impact on international efforts to stand firm against aggressive tax avoidance”. But this idea of modest benefits is taken too much for granted, as it’s a policy that is seen as being successful – and its only modest because it’s portrayed as the best that Ireland can do given that we are ‘a small open economy’ etc.

But the facilitation of tax avoidance, the unwillingness to develop alternative industrial strategies and at this precise moment alternative investment during a long-term strike in private investment while imposing also increasing tax levels on ordinary Irish residents either indirectly or through property tax and water charges are one and the same.

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