Hopes of Vita deal as union agrees to LRC talks

There are hopes of a breakthrough in the long-running Vita Cortex dispute after Siptu agreed last night to attend talks at the Labour Relations Commission next week.

The union, which is now representing 23 workers involved in the 12-week occupation of the former foam plant in Cork over ex-gratia redundancy payments, will meet the LRC in Dublin on Tuesday. It is understood the LRC will then meet with employers’ union, Ibec, representing Vita Cortex.

The invitation to talks followed extensive behind-the-scenes contacts between all parties, and days after Labour leader Eamon Gilmore met the workers.

And there were hopes last night that a deal may be hammered out next week to end the deadlock.

The workers welcomed the LRC’s second intervention in this dispute on the eve of their 85th day of the sit-in. “They hope it provides the opportunity to bring an end to this long and difficult battle to secure their agreed redundancy entitlements,” Siptu organiser, Anne Egar, said.

Earlier, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams visited the factory where he accused Vita Cortex owner Jack Ronan of behaving in a most “unpatriotic way” towards his workers. “He should honour his pledge to workers,” Mr Adams said.

“I don’t for a moment begrudge him his wealth but it was created by people like those who are now occupying this factory and they deserve their rights and entitlements.” He urged the workers to hold out until they get what they claim they were promised.

Mr Adams also said Sinn Féin will press the Government to introduce enhanced legislation to project workers. “What’s happened here must never be allowed happen again to any other workforce,” he said.

The workers have been engaged in the sit-in since Dec 16 last.

They claim they were promised 2.9 weeks per year of service redundancy payments. Vita Cortex has claimed an inability to pay.

The State has fast-tracked the payment of the two weeks statutory redundancy.

But the workers are holding out for the 0.9 week payment from Mr Ronan, which they say totals €372,000.

They rejected an offer of €170,000 last week which the company said was raised from the personal resources of shareholders and directors. Siptu branded it a “derisory” offer.

Worker Jim Power said they were delighted to meet Mr Adams yesterday. “We welcome support and help for everybody who feels they can play a role. He said that he might be back in Cork at Easter. We told him that we hope that we won’t still be here by then.”

The workers’ plight has attracted the support of celebrities including Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, singer Christy Moore, actor Cillian Murphy and soccer star Paul McGrath.

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