Siptu accused in escalation of Vita Cortex dispute

The employers’ union Ibec has accused Siptu of “a pattern of misrepresentation” of the facts of the bitter Vita Cortex dispute.

In a major escalation in the 10-week sit-in at the Cork factory, Ibec’s regional director, Helen Barry, said Vita Cortex never gave an undertaking to pay ex gratia redundancy payments and has “discharged its full statutory obligations to the employees concerned”.

Details of her letter emerged last night, a day after former Vita Cortex director Sean McHenry described the picketing of his home as “blackmail” designed to secure additional ex gratia payments from personal funds of the directors.

“There is no legal entitlement to such payments and no promises were made in respect of them,” he said.

“Poorly informed ‘personalities’ are being lulled into lending their names and support.”

It sparked a furious reaction last night from the 32 former workers who are facing into the 68th day of their sit-in.

Cal O’Leary, who worked for the company for 44 years, said: “It is unbelievable that McHenry is accusing us of blackmail for simply campaigning for what we were promised.

“We worked loyally for his company and made him profits, and this is how we are being repaid by being accused of blackmail for peacefully protesting for what we deserve.”

Siptu organiser Anne Egar said Mr McHenry’s letter “marked a new low”.

“This is the second letter from the McHenry family to the media that has contained falsehoods,” she said.

“McHenry and his family would be better served trying to bring a just resolution to this dispute than lowering themselves to making personal attacks against honest workers.”

The workers lost their jobs when the plant shut down on Dec 16 last.

They have been occupying the building since in pursuit of the same 2.9 weeks per year of service redundancy package which they say the company paid to previous employees.

But the company has claimed an “inability to pay” — a claim being examined by the Department of Social Protection, which is paying the workers’ the statutory redundancy.

The workers’ sit-in in pursuit of the 0.9 ex gratia payment — about €372,000 — has attracted widespread public and high-profile support.

Soccer legend Paul McGrath visited the workers on Saturday, Christy Moore performed a benefit gig for the workers in the city last Friday night, and Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson backed their stance last week.

Former President Mary Robinson and human rights champion Noam Chomsky have also pledged their support.

But in her letter to Siptu’s manufacturing division organiser, Gerry McCormack, Ms Barry branded the sit-in “unlawful and unofficial”.

She said Siptu and its members had ignored several issues, including:

* Vita Cortex (Ind) has been consistent since Sep 2011 that it did not have the financial or commercial capacity to pay statutory redundancy terms;

* That this was acknowledged by Ms Eager in a letter to the company on Nov 16 last, eight weeks after the formal consultation process was completed, and just four weeks before closure;

* Siptu did not submit a claim for an ex gratia payment before the redundancies were implemented on Dec 16;

* Siptu did not refer any dispute over redundancy payments to the state’s industrial relations dispute resolution machinery before the sit-in started.

“On behalf of Vita Cortex (Ind), we would respectfully request that your members be reminded of the above salient facts and we would urge that your union brings its proper influence to bear to end both its misrepresentation of the facts, and of this dispute,” she said.

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