The families, friends and other supporters did a lap of honour around the building in Ballyphehane, Cork, as part of the campaign to secure proper redundancy payments for 32 workers who have been staging a sit-in at the plant since December 16.
It came as SIPTU announced the campaign would be stepped up this week with plans for a protest outside the Dáil in Dublin.
Some workers, heartened by the solidarity, emerged from their sit-in to join the supporters. As the sun shone, SIPTU representative Anne Eager surveyed the hundreds who had gathered.
“I thought it was fantastic. The support has been amazing from the start, with people bringing food to the workers. One elderly man gave them €50 from his pension and another bought a Lottery ticket. They said that if they won, they might consider ending the sit-in, but I doubt it.”
SIPTU is to seek a meeting on the issue with Enterprise and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton.
“We have to get the message across that this company must be made pay its bills. I believe that the owners John Ronan and Sean McHenry have the means to do so. We want Minister Bruton to engage with us and secure fairness for Vita Cortex workers,” said Ms Eager.
The workers want a €1.2 million redundancy package — 2.9 weeks per year of service for each worker — which they believe their employer has the resources to pay. NAMA has frozen the assets of a sister company, including a €2.5m bank account Vita Cortex bosses said they wanted to use for payments.
NAMA says it legally cannot release the funds and it is the company’s responsibility to resolve the redundancy issue.
In a statement yesterday, Vita Cortex said it was not refusing to pay the redundancy, but was unable to do so. “It is very much the desire of the management of Vita Cortex to be in a position to make good on our obligations. However, the company does not have the funding to meet these obligations at this time.”
It said the company had been working with staff and union representatives since the decision to close the plant was announced last September. The company closed, it said, due to difficult economic conditions and the loss of several customers. There was no option but to close in order to try to secure the survival of sites in Athlone and Belfast, the statement read.
The company said the staff pension fund was fully funded and was not affected by the current dispute.
* See exa.mn/cortexvid for video of the protest