The move came last night on the eve of the 100th day of their dispute at the former foam factory in Cork. They have vowed to remain until a resolution is found.
They accepted the proposal from the Labour Relations Commission after meeting their Siptu representatives in Cork yesterday.
Union official Gerry McCormack said the mediation process offered the best possible hope of a resolution.
However, the process can only begin if the employer’s union, Ibec, agrees. The workers are awaiting its response.
The process was suggested by the LRC’s head of conciliation, Kevin Foley, who wrote to both parties yesterday. The LRC chaired conciliation talks between the sides in January but failed to find a resolution.
Mr Foley and the LRC have remained in contact with both sides.
However, in his letter yesterday, he said that, based on those contacts, he did not believe he had a basis for advancing a search for agreement using the same conciliation process.
“While the stated positions of the parties seems intractable, both parties have stated publicly that they are committed to exploring all meaningful efforts to finally resolve the dispute,” he said.
“I am very conscious of the nature of the dispute and, in particular, of the public statements of the parties outlining their willingness to participate in meaningful efforts to find a resolution.
“I therefore believe that further meaningful engagement can take place at this time through a process of mediation to be put in place which would attempt to find a basis for resolution of the dispute.”
It was not clear how the process would work, who would lead it, when it would start, or how long it would take. It is expected that an ad-hoc committee of industrial relations troubleshooters may be involved.
Mr Foley said he would work with both sides to put the process in place.
Siptu’s Anne Eager said the sit-in would continue in tandem with the talks.
“If the public statements by the owners of Vita Cortex calling for meaningful negotiations are to be credible, then a just resolution to the dispute is achievable and these brave workers can finally return to their homes and families,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of Ibec and the Vita Cortex management, Keane PR and Marketing said the company would meet with the LRC “to discuss how the proposed mediation process might work”.
However, the spokesperson said the company insists “the dispute is unofficial and its conduct has been unlawful in occupying the company’s premises”.