There are fresh hopes that the Waterford Crystal pension dispute could be resolved before it goes to High Court next year.
The trade union, Unite has accepted an invitation to talks at the Labour Relations Commission in a bid to settle the row, which has dragged on for five years.
The Irish secretary of Unite, Jimmy Kelly, said yesterday that he had been in touch with Kieran Mulvey, chief executive of the LRC, and that formal engagement would begin later this week.
Discussions will centre on retirement funds that workers say contain only a fraction of the money they paid in before the factory shut in 2009.
Last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that the State is in breach of its obligations under the terms of the EU Insolvency Directive to ensure that employees receive sufficient pension entitlements. The case is currently before the High Court and is listed for hearing next January.
A total of 1,500 workers at Waterford Crystal lost their jobs when the firm collapsed. They were told their pension scheme was so poorly funded they should only expect to receive 18%-28% of retirement income from it.
The issue left many older ex-employees in dire financial circumstances over the past five years, with some struggling to find other work to sustain them while the case went through the courts.
During an ECJ case against the State last year, employee representatives won the right to compensation over the matter, with the level of money involved due to be decided by the Irish High Court next January.
“We have been engaged with this case since the closure,” said Mr Kelly. “We were successful in getting a ruling in our favour from the European Court of Justice, which applies to all workers in the State. We have, since April 2013, been trying to get some speedy resolution in discussions with the Department of the Tánaiste.”
Speaking to RTÉ radio, he added: “We now have agreement that Kieran Mulvey will now look at the case. We had support along the way from a wide number of Oireachtas members, from Siptu and from David Begg of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
“The financial implications of running a case like this is that you won’t get out of the starting blocks without putting €1m on the table. We have also had support from Siptu.
“We see this as a positive development and Kieran Mulvey is looking forward to having an agreed resolution to the dispute.”
The issue to be decided is what form of compensation is appropriate in the circumstances.
“Members are actually dying since we started this process,” said Mr Kelly, who added that Unite had confidence in the LRC process and in Mr Mulvey’s commitment to reaching a settlement.
However, Mr Kelly warned that if no satisfactory agreement was reached, the case would go back to the High Court in January.
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