Vita workers hope for dispute breakthrough

The Vita Cortex workers hope that a crucial meeting today between the Taoiseach and the Enterprise Minister will result in a breakthrough in their protracted 54-day sit-in.

Enda Kenny is due to meet Richard Bruton later for an update on the state’s investigation into Vita Cortex boss Jack Ronan’s complex business empire.

It was launched after the millionaire Tipperary businessman claimed Vita Cortex’s ‘inability to pay’ the workers their 2.9 weeks’ per year of service redundancy. This is despite the fact he oversees a diverse range of business interests.

The State is picking up the tab for the two weeks element of the redundancy payment. The workers want Mr Ronan to pay the 0.9 week element — a cost to him of €372,000.

Former Vita Cortex worker Cal O’Leary, who was among four workers to outline their plight to the Taoiseach during a meeting in Cork on Friday, said: “It was a big bonus for us that he took an interest. We need something like this to drive us along.”

But he said the workers will not set a deadline for progress following today’s meeting. “We’ve been there so long, we’ve been up and down so many times, and disappointed a lot of times, I wouldn’t like to put an hour or a day on it,” he said.

“I just hope that by the end of the week that there will be some good news.”

Siptu official Anne Eager also described the Taoiseach’s intervention as a “positive sign”.

“I did put it to him that there has to be some way and some means to influence Mr Ronan to come to the table and agree a settlement with these workers so they can go home to their families,” she said.

Some 32 former foam workers have been occupying the plant since its closure on December 16.

The State has fast-tracked the workers’ statutory redundancy package, which is due to be finalised within days.

The workers have vowed to continue their sit-in until Mr Ronan pays the 0.9 weeks’ element.

It is understood that Nama, which has frozen several of Mr Ronan’s assets, is still engaged with him and his legal representatives on the Vita Cortex redundancy issue.

The workers briefed local TDs on their campaign at the factory yesterday.

Afterwards, Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer called for the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) to intervene again. It brokered a deal two weeks ago that could have resolved the sit-in, but Mr Ronan failed to hand over an asset to Nama and the deal collapsed.

Meanwhile, leaflets are being distributed across Cork’s suburbs promoting Saturday’s Vita Cortex solidarity march in the city.

Organisers are hoping to attract between 5,000 and 10,000 people marching.

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