High-level approaches were continuing yesterday to ensure the Liebherr Group maintains its commitment to the Killarney plant and does not go ahead with threatened measures that would affect employment in its Irish operation.
The company has said it is “re-evaluating’’ its dependency on its plant in Killarney, Co Kerry, following a Labour Court recommendation that it pay 2.5% in back pay, arising from industrial action by Siptu.
Liebherr, which employs 670 people manufacturing container cranes in the town, has warned that plans for further expansion and increased employment are now in jeopardy and some work is being transferred to overseas plants.
Observers have noted that a company statement on the issue is the strongest ever issued by Liebherr, which has had many industrial disputes in Killarney, where it was established in 1958.
Kerry politicians have approached German ambassador Eckhard Lubkemeier, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, and Enterprise Minister Richard Burton in efforts to ensure Liebherr continues to remain a hugely important part of the local economy.
The family-owned company, which also has three hotels in the Killarney area, is believed to be the longest-established multinational in Ireland and the first to be set up by founder Hans Liebherr outside Germany.
The group’s 130 companies are spread across the world and are run by the late Mr Liebherr’s son and daughter, Willi and Isolde, from corporate headquarters in Bulle, Switzerland.
A road in Killarney has been named after Hans Liebherr. Also, Isolde Liebherr was given the freedom of the town last year and gave a commitment to investing long term in Killarney.
The latest statement has led to fears of job losses in the Killarney plant, which is thriving despite the recession and which has taken on an additional 150 workers in the past 18 months.
According to the Companies Office, the Killarney operation had a turnover of €210m and a profit of €20.8m for the year ending Dec 2012.
Back pay under the Labour Court recommendation will cost the company between €1.8m and €2m, and the extra cost to the €40m wage bill will be €1m after that.
Liebherr claims the increase will “compromise’’ its ability to remain competitive on the world container crane market.
Cranes manufactured in Killarney are used in 100 ports in 46 countries.
The plant’s managing director, Pat O’Leary, has said the quality of the Killarney cranes and after-sales service are its key advantages.
Globally, Liebherr had a €9bn turnover in 2012. It employs some 38,000 people.
Its investment in Killarney in recent years has been in the region of €50m, including a new €30m production hall, measuring 17,000 sq metres, the size of two football pitches.
Last year, the company purchased the Lackabane golf course from Killarney Golf and Fishing Club for €6m. The course surrounds the factory on three sides and the land may be used for further expansion.
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