Vita workers defend decision to hold out for full payment

Workers at Vita Cortex have defended their decision to reject an offer of partial redundancy payments designed to end their 78-day sit-in.

They said they have been occupying the former Cork foam factory since Dec 16 in pursuit of the full 0.9 of a week per year of service ex-gratia payment they say they were promised by their employer, Jack Ronan, when the redundancies were announced last September.

And they said they won’t leave the factory until they get the full €372,000 for the 32 workers.

The state has already fast-tracked the payment of the two-week statutory element of the redundancy.

Former Vita Cortex worker Cal O’Leary said the company set a precedent by paying 2.9 weeks redundancy packages in recent years.

“It was given and honoured to workers who left before and that’s what we are looking for. That’s what we’re waiting for, and nothing less. We remain united and strong.”

He was among a group of former workers who picketed the home of Vita Cortex director Sean McHenry again yesterday.

Mr McHenry was not available for comment. Neither was the company’s main owner, his son-in-law, Jack Ronan.

The picket came the day after IBEC, representing the owners, offered a payment in the region of €180,000.

It was the first concrete offer from the company since the dispute began, and followed days of behind-the-scenes contacts between both sides.

Trade union Siptu said they emphasised to the employers’ body that nothing less than the outstanding redundancy amount would be acceptable if the dispute was to be resolved.

Its manufacturing division organiser, Gerry McCormack, described as “derisory” the partial payment offer which was made during a phone call before the union met the workers in Connolly Hall on Wednesday.

“It was an insult to our members who have been enduring extremely harsh conditions during their occupation of the plant for almost 80 days.

“They are also very angry at the manner in which they and their union representatives have been treated during these latest discussions.

“The employer and IBEC need to demonstrate that they are prepared to act in good faith and to honour what are basic principles of decency in the treatment of these workers.”

Siptu official, Anne Eager, said the offer, although way below what the workers want, was a positive sign.

“The principle appears to have been conceded. Now it’s just a question of how much. And we have told IBEC that nothing below 0.9 weeks will end this dispute.”

Speaking in Cork last night, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said he believes the workers should be paid their redundancy entitlements.

He is due to meet some of them at the Maryborough House Hotel this morning.

Mr O’Leary said the Vita Cortex 32 “are not greedy people”.

“We’re not looking for a huge amount compared to other redundancy payouts.

“If he [Jack Ronan] had no assets, if he was a poor man, we’d have walked away. But we know he has the assets.”

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