Vita workers plot escalation after board’s rejection

The former Vita Cortex workers are keeping their powder dry after meeting to discuss escalating their almost five-month dispute over redundancy payments.

They met Siptu representatives in Cork last night, but declined to comment in detail afterwards.

They are due to meet again before the end of the week to discuss their strategy in pursuit of ex-gratia redundancy payments.

Siptu decided against publishing the details of the Labour Relations Commission’s proposal to end the row, which workers voted to accept but which the company rejected last week.

Siptu’s Anne Eager said there was a “full and frank” discussion last night on the implications of Friday’s rejection by the company of guidance issued by the LRC-appointed mediators that could have brought the dispute to an end.

She said there was a range of issues that needed further discussion but the workers remained defiant.

“They are absolutely disgusted at the company’s rejection of the mediators proposal,” said Ms Eager.

“But they’re not giving up. They’re not leaving the plant, and they are not ceasing the dispute.

“They are going to continue and, if absolutely necessary, they fully intend to increase their actions.”

Today is the 138th day of their sit-in at the former foam factory. It is one of the longest-running disputes of its kind in Irish industrial relations history.

It is understood the workers are considering a sustained picket of Vita Cortex owner Jack Ronan’s other business interests.

He is, or has been listed as, a director of 27 companies, including The Print Works and Web Circle.

Last night’s meeting was held to discuss a ramping-up of the protest following the rejection of mediation proposals.

The former Vita Cortex staff in Cork claim they were promised ex-gratia redundancy payments totalling 0.9 weeks’s pay per year of service.

Mr Ronan, who closed the company on Dec 16, has claimed an “inability to pay”.

Hopes that an end was in sight were raised last week when the management of Vita Cortex agreed to a mediation process set out by the LRC.

However, when management walked out of the process, the LRC appointed mediations-issued guidance that Siptu said would have brought the dispute to a “fair and equitable conclusion”.

The former workers voted within 24 hours to accept the guidance, but it took the company seven days to issue its rejection.

It said the guidance did not provide a solid basis for a resolution, and claimed the guidance was inconsistent and did not treat all staff equally.

Siptu rejected the company’s claim that it sought to exclude some Vita Cortex workers from sharing in an equitable settlement. It also accused the company of issuing a statement that contained “a number of untruths and legally questionable assertions”.

In March, the workers rejected the company’s offer of €180,000 to end the dispute.

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