Outrage over sacking of workers employed to listen to Apple Siri ... some are told to leave the country

Outrage over sacking of workers employed to listen to Apple Siri ... some are told to leave the country
Apple plant at Hollyhill on the northside of Cork City. Picture Dan Linehan

THE company that supplied hundreds of people to listen to Apple Siri recordings has come under fire for informing some workers they had to leave the country by September 2.

Some of the 300 GlobeTech workers in Cork, who lost their jobs when Apple pulled the plug on the controversial Siri listening operation, were sent a letter giving them just two weeks’ notice to leave the country.

Following the incident, Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke warned that non-EU workers will be reluctant to come to Cork because weak employment laws could leave them vulnerable to being sacked and forced to return home.

Globetech contracted staff to listen to and grade recordings from the Apple voice assistant, Siri. The workers were stood down earlier this month when Apple halted the listening project amid claims that people’s privacy had been violated.

One of Globetech’s workers, now jobless, said he felt lost when he was told he was being let go.

“We were on paid leave, nobody was really expecting to be fired,” the worker said. 

“They kept saying that the reason for us to stay at home was a technical issue, even though in the meantime Apple was reporting that they had stopped the project on purpose.”

The former GlobeTech contractor added: “Myself like many others came from different countries and continents to Cork just for this job. Losing it all of a sudden was a terrible feeling.

“I am disappointed by the fact that my company didn’t do anything to help us with new employment.

“I am also disappointed that there wasn’t any help from the Government. I mean, we moved from our countries to Cork because Apple is here.”

“I think that the State should guarantee good working rights to the people that move to Ireland to work for these big companies,” the worker added.

GlobeTech would not confirm the number of employees affected by the project closure, although it’s believed 300 people lost their jobs in Cork alone.

Cork TD Mick Barry (Solidarity) said that some non-EU employees were informed by GlobeTech that, as their employment was coming to an end, they had to leave the country by September 2.

Speaking to The Echo, Senator Burke explained that employment law in Ireland needs to be examined so that workers are not left in such a precarious position.

“If people are coming in on a six-month contract, there should be a guarantee that the work is there for six months,” he said.

“If someone fails to provide the work they said they would, that’s fair enough, but this is a situation where everyone was competent but the contract was cancelled and they’re left with the consequences.

“People could come over and pay deposits for apartments and enter into contracts which they then have to fulfill,” he added.

“Companies could find problems in the future if this happens again in trying to get workers to come here.

“Workers will no longer want to come to Ireland if they hear about people coming here for a month or so before being let go.”

In a statement to The Echo, GlobeTech said that all matters relating to work permits for non-EU citizens employed by GlobeTech are fully compliant with regulations laid down by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Apple has also come in for criticism from politicians.

Deputy Mick Barry said that the tech giant needs to be held to account for the treatment of workers who had their contracts suddenly ended last week.

He said workers were “paid off” with one weeks’ pay and that some had travelled halfway across the world to perform the contract only to be treated “very shoddily”.

He also called on Apple to reveal if GlobeTech were paid the full price for a terminated contract.

“I would have thought that Apple would pay the full price of the contract given that they were the ones who terminated it,” he explained. “If Globetech were paid in full for the terminated contract then its workers should be paid in full up to their own original contract termination dates.”

Meanwhile, Cork TD Michael McGrath (FF) said that the job losses are huge blow for the region as he called on Apple to make a statement on the matter.

Apple has addressed the controversy surrounding listening to phone users without their consent.

An apology from Apple, posted on its website on Wednesday, said: “We know that customers have been concerned by recent reports of people listening to audio Siri recordings as part of our Siri quality evaluation process — which we call grading.

“We heard their concerns, immediately suspended human grading of Siri requests and began a thorough review of our practices and policies. We’ve decided to make some changes to Siri as a result.”

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