SIPTU: Vita Cortex workers ‘used as pawns’

Siptu has accused the owner of Vita Cortex of using his former workers as “pawns” in his talks with Nama after it emerged he failed to deliver on a deal that could have ended the six-week sit-in last Friday.

The Labour Relations Commission adjourned conciliation talks without resolution on Friday after Jack Ronan failed to transfer an asset to Nama, as was expected.

LRC chief executive, Kieran Mulvey, declined last night to comment on the talks details.

However, as the 32 former workers begin day 40 of their sit-in at the Cork plant, it has emerged a strategy to end the sit-in was agreed after the first day of the LRC talks last Tuesday.

Mr Ronan was to identify an unencumbered asset and agree terms for its handover to Nama.

This would have allowed Nama, which has frozen several of his other assets, to release certain funds which Mr Ronan would use to pay the workers’ redundancy.

Mr Ronan was poised to hand over the asset when the LRC resumed talks in Cork on Friday.

But it is understood he refused until Nama engaged with him on his group’s wider financial issues.

The LRC was left with no option but to adjourn the talks without a resolution. The sit-in continues.

A spokesperson for Mr Ronan did not respond to questions emailed to him yesterday. Mr Mulvey said it is now up Mr Ronan, not Nama, to resolve the issue.

He also said he fears for the health of the workers, and he called for “an injection of goodwill” to find a resolution that would allow them go home.

“The only people hurting here are the individuals involved in the occupation,” Mr Mulvey said.

“What’s separating the parties here is €374,000. In the business of industrial relations it is a drop in the ocean.

“Nama have to be careful that they also, in their circumstances, are not diluting assets to the benefit of someone who is in Nama and who probably, privately, has the capacity to pay.”

He said the LRC remains available to return to Cork at “a moment’s notice” should a viable solution be put forward.

But Siptu official Anne Egar slated Mr Ronan and said he is using the workers as “pawns in a cynical attempt to pressurise Nama into resolving his financial issues with them”.

“We were led to believe the agreed redundancy payments would be forthcoming through the LRC process,” she said. “Now it seems the owner is using that process to advance his own financial interests.”

She said the workers will intensify their campaign over the coming days.

The National Union of Journalists called on the Director of Corporate Enforcement last night to investigate the circumstances which allowed Mr Ronan to avoid his obligations. Comedian Des Bishop tweeted a video backing their cause at the weekend.

Bishop of Cork and Ross, Most Rev Dr John Buckley visited the plant on Sunday, and the Cork City north branch of the INTO have also supported the workers.

And Cork City FC chief executive Tim Murphy has invited the workers to attend the team’s opening Airtricity League Premier Division game against Drogheda United at Turner’s Cross on Friday, March 5.

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