Vita Cortex workers take redundancy pay protest to owner’s 300-acre stud farm

We are not giving up until you pay up — that was the defiant message from the Vita Cortex workers to their former employer last night after taking their protest to the gates of his home.

Some of the former foam factory workers, who have been occupying the Cork plant for 46 days in pursuit of redundancy payments, staged a peaceful protest outside millionaire businessman Jack Ronan’s sprawling 300-acre Orchardstown Stud farm at Lisronagh, outside Clonmel in Co Tipperary.

However, he sparked a furious reaction when he claimed the company never agreed to the ex gratia redundancy payment.

Siptu and the 32 Vita Cortex staff, who have a combined 847 years’ service with the company, have said since day one they were seeking a redundancy payment of 2.9 weeks’ per year of service.

The state will cover two weeks of the total payment, so the workers are occupying the plant to force Mr Ronan to pay the extra 0.9 week element, which they say had been on the table since late last year.

Siptu official Anne Eager, who accompanied the workers yesterday, said the total redundancy sum is in the region of €1.22m, and that this figure was presented by the company to the union when closure talks began last September.

Ms Eager said the company had calculated the €1.22m figure on the basis of a 2.9-week redundancy figure.

“No other figure was ever given to us and it’s simply not in question that that was the deal,” she said.

She said the 2.9-week figure was a central plank of the Labour Relations Commission-chaired talks two weeks ago that failed to break the impasse.

However, Mr Ronan, who spoke briefly to reporters during yesterday’s protest, rejected that claim.

“The ex gratia payment was never promised to them by the company,” he said.

“It was never requested by the union, and never, never committed to by the company.

“I’m trying to find something that might keep the lads happy, but we never ever committed to the ex gratia payment.”

Ms Eager said she was amazed at Mr Ronan’s assertion.

“All discussions we’ve had with the company have been on the basis of 2.9 weeks,” she said.

“At no point in any talks with company did they disagree with this figure.”

Former Vita Cortex lorry driver Jim Power said Mr Ronan’s comments were proof for the public of what the workers were dealing with in their struggle.

“This just makes us more determined than ever,” he said.

Mr Ronan, who has been in negotiations with Nama since talks with the LRC failed to find a deal, refused to comment about his engagement with Nama.

The workers staged another protest at the home of Vita Cortex director and former chairman, Sean McHenry, in Douglas, Cork, last night.

Meanwhile, a public meeting will take place at the factory at 8pm tonight to finalise plans for a mass rally in the city.

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