Worker anger grows at Waterford Crystal plant

Hundreds of workers were occupying Ireland's world-famous Waterford Crystal factory tonight after being told by text message they were losing their jobs.

Scuffles broke out as private security teams brought in by receivers tried to keep back employees from storming the plant at Kilbarry, outside Waterford city.

Union officials, tipped off by former managers that the troubled operation was to about to shut, furiously texted staff who were at home, their wives and partners to scramble crowds towards the factory.

Trade union Unite's regional secretary Jimmy Kelly, a former Waterford Crystal worker among those occupying the plant, said workers were furious after assurances they would be kept informed of any developments.

"There's a lot of anger, people feel they've been betrayed," he said.

"We were in a process and we were given a commitment that we would be kept briefed on any development, but the receiver went ahead today and decided on the closure.

"What we are trying to do now is get the decision to close the place reversed, or postponed for a few days to allow us to engage in that process. This is not the way to treat people in the middle of something."

Government Minister Martin Cullen, who is from Waterford, tonight stepped into the row to appeal for "cool heads" and for workers to stay calm.

However, employees have insisted they will not be removed from the plant until an opportunity is given for it to be saved by one of two prospective buyers.

Joe Kelly, an industrial engineer for 35 years at the Waterford Wedgwood group-owned factory, which went into receivership earlier this month, is one of those staging the sit-in.

"We are staying until we get the receiver's decision to close the firm reversed, and an opportunity is given to buyers to come in and buy this company and save 300 to 400 jobs, and reasonable conditions for those that have to leave," he said from inside the plant.

"Most of us have put between 20 and 40 years' service into this company and we are not being thrown on to the scrap heap by a receiver appointed by Deloitte."

Hours after the occupation began this afternoon, Deloitte receiver David Carson said in a statement that manufacturing will cease immediately with the loss of 480 of the 800 jobs.

The visitors' centre in Waterford, one of Ireland's top tourist attractions, will also close, he said.

"The decision to cease manufacturing does not necessarily preclude a resumption of operations in Waterford in the future," the statement said.

"The receiver is continuing negotiations with interested parties with a view to a sale of the company's assets and those discussions are focused on agreeing the terms upon which a transaction could be completed."

Union leader Jimmy Kelly said there was no mood among the workers to leave the factory until the shut down was overturned.

"People are not prepared to just pack up and forget about this. There's a determination here, people are not going to just lie down," he said.

Gardaí confirmed they were called to the scene but said there have been no arrests.

Private equity firm Clarion Capital held talks in Dublin yesterday about a potential take-over of the troubled glass factory, formerly controlled by media tycoon Anthony O'Reilly and his brother-in-law Peter Goulandris.

Trade union officials said they were told of a commitment by the US-based investors to keep the factory open for at least another 10 years.

New York-based KPS Capital Partners have also expressed an interest in Waterford.

But Mr Cullen said the receiver told him today that he had reached the end of the road and simply had no more money to keep the operation going.

There was hope for a formal second bid from a prospective buyer in the next 24 hours, he added.

But shortly after briefing workers at a meeting this morning, rumours started to circulate that the factory was to be shut down within hours.

Worker Joe Kelly, who is also a Sinn Féin councillor in Waterford, was one of those who rushed to summon workers to the plant.

"Because we are on short time, most of the workforce were at home, so we initiated a campaign of text messaging to all the people we had in our phones, and to our partners and our wives to contact people in the area and get them back down to the factory to start the occupation," he said.

"A security firm was put on the doors and they tried to prevent people from entering the premises.

"Tensions were running very high, and when they opened the door to allow one person in a surge of people charged the door and scuffles broke out between the security people and the workers.

"Bodies ended up on the ground but there were no injuries."

The councillor insisted that the occupation will last until they are assured of an opportunity to try and save jobs.

"We have had offers from local businesses of food, drink and water free of charge," he said.

"This occupation is going to last as long as it has to last, until we get a reasonable solution and there is a reasonable solution - there are two major buyers interested. That makes this whole thing a farce. "

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