Behind the chainmail curtains: Wacky interiors, tax breaks and big profits at Dublin headquarters of tech giant

The Google headquarters complex in Dublin is home to 6,000 employees, complete with a conference room set inside a giant fake tree, curtains made of chainmail, and an entire floor carpeted in a layer of fake grass. (Photo courtesy of Google)
Updated 07 November 2017
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Behind the chainmail curtains: Wacky interiors, tax breaks and big profits at Dublin headquarters of tech giant

The headquarters for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa is something else. A multi-hued complex with themed floors and wacky spaces – there is even a 25-meter swimming pool. That alone is enough to make you question previous career choices.
Home to 6,000 employees, the Dublin offices don’t look like a working environment at all. There’s a tiny conference room set inside a giant fake tree, curtains made of chainmail, and an entire floor carpeted in a layer of fake grass.
There are swings and reclining chairs, informal meeting rooms and alternative working zones. They have names such as The Forge and The Lab, and there’s even The Store, which sells everything from Google stationery to the latest merchandise. Here and there are communication hubs with micro-kitchens and gaming zones. Oh, and don’t forget the Soda Lab and the five restaurants, the largest of which can fit 1,000 people.
Traveling between the three main buildings (Gasworks House, Gordon House and the newly constructed Google Docks) involves walking across a glass hyperlink bridge, with Google Docks — at 14 storys — the tallest commercial building in Dublin. With panoramic views of the city below, you can see all of Dublin’s “Silicon Docks”, which are also home to the European headquarters of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
None of them would arguably be here, of course, if it weren’t for Ireland’s favorable tax laws, which have helped attract the world’s largest tech companies to Dublin.
The country’s low corporate tax rate (12.5 percent), which can be lowered even further by financial engineering, has fueled this tech and social media invasion. But not without controversy.
In January last year, Google agreed to pay £130 million in back taxes to the UK government following an open audit of its accounts. It stood accused, along with other multinational companies, of avoiding paying tax via complex international tax structures, in spite of making billions of pounds of sales in the UK.
Then there’s the EU. According to a report released in September by EU lawmaker Paul Tang, the bloc lost €5.4 billion in tax revenues from Google and Facebook between 2013 and 2015.
“Large digital platforms operate as a single unit in the EU internal market, but face a patchwork of tax jurisdictions competing for profits,” wrote Tang in the report, EU Tax Revenue Loss from Google and Facebook. “This enables them to minimize the overall tax burden in the EU by routing all revenues to low-tax member states such as Ireland and Luxembourg. Hence, the other member states are very likely being deprived of billions of euros of tax revenues.”
It’s a situation the EU is determined to counter. In September the European Commission said it was looking at ways to gather a larger amount of tax from companies such as Google and Facebook, which capitalize on their lack of office space in European countries to book their profits in low-tax states.
It is a strategy that could backfire, with the American Chamber of Commerce stating that plans to raise more tax revenue from the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon would make Europe less attractive to investors.
What this would mean for Google’s Irish dream, remains to be seen.


Al Jazeera English journalists to strike over pay

Updated 25 April 2018
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Al Jazeera English journalists to strike over pay

  • Al Jazeera English journalists based in London have told management they will go on strike next month over pay
  • Journalists at the London office based in the Shard building say they have not received a pay rise in years

LONDON: Al Jazeera English journalists based in London have told management they will go on strike next month over pay.
Staff at the Qatar-owned broadcaster voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action in March following a years-long dispute.
Journalists at the London office based in the Shard building say they have not received a pay rise in years despite increased living costs.
“The talks have been going on since 2015 and members have been losing patience. They voted almost unanimously to go for strike action,” Frances Rafferty, campaigns and communications officer at the National Union of Journalists, told Arab News.
“It’s a last resort, they’ve tried negotiating and they are just completely frustrated, nobody wants to go on strike but they are in a position where it is an option of last resort.”
Al Jazeera English is headquartered in Doha but a significant number of its journalists work out of its London office, which is responsible for European news gathering, current affairs programming and live evening news output.
The strike will take place on May 9 and will be followed by “action short of a strike” in which there will be a “withdrawl of good will,” with staff starting to take their statutory meal breaks in full and refusing to answer telephone calls, emails and messages out of normal hours.
This will begin on May 10, 2018 and continue “indefinitely,” the NUJ said — but it could be suspended “if management is prepared to come back and start meaningful talks.”
Al Jazeera members of the NUJ and the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) lodged a claim in 2015 over redundancy policy, expenses and overtime. While progress was made in some areas, the management rejected requests to negotiate over pay.
An email sent to Al Jazeera staff on Dec. 29, 2017 signed by the broadcaster’s London HR team said: “Al Jazeera Media Network (which includes Al Jazeera International London) will not be offering standard pay increase or bonus to global staff in 2018 due to global budgetary constraints.”
The email said 17 staff members “whose salaries fell below the minimum market rates” had received pay rises.
Commenting at the time, the Al Jazeera NUJ branch said: “We went into pay talks three years ago expecting to negotiate over percentages. In that time Al Jazeera management has refused to improve on 0 percent — effectively handing all its staff an annual pay cut, once inflation is taken into account. The ballot result shows our members are not prepared to accept this.”
Al Jazeera did not respond to Arab News when approach for comment.