Viva la Vita: Workers celebrate as 139-day sit-in ends

After 139 days of round-the-clock sit-ins, the former employees of Vita Cortex have finally secured a severance deal with their former employer which will allow them to go home within a fortnight.

The workers were paid their statutory redundancy in February but for almost five months, they have maintained their protest in pursuit of a 0.9 weeks’ pay per year of service ex-gratia payment they claim they were promised. The total value of those payments is in the region of €372,000.

Neither side would reveal last night the payments which have been agreed, but the former employees of the Kinsale Road foam factory were in celebratory mood last night.

The breakthrough came after talks at the Rochestown Park Hotel yesterday. On one side of the table was company owner Jack Ronan, managing director Ian Kirby and a representative of employers’ body IBEC. On the other sat Siptu general secretary Joe O’Flynn, division organiser, Gerry McCormack, organiser Anne Egar and worker representatives Sean Kelleher and Cal O’Leary.

At the end of four hours of discussions, an offer was made to the union which was “significantly” greater than the approximate €185,000 put forward in March.

The new figure was put to 23 workers at a meeting in the Gresham Metropole Hotel last night and was unanimously accepted.

The sit-in will continue for the next two weeks until the money is received.

Siptu’s Gerry McCormack said: “The workers are very pleased that after four months campaigning to secure equitable and fair redundancy payments, which takes account of their long years of service at Vita Cortex, they can now return to their normal lives satisfied they achieved their objective.”

His colleague Anne Egar said: “These workers have shown massive commitment and resolve during this dispute. Their perseverance has been an example to others in similar situations in Ireland and beyond.”

Tim Burke, an employee of the company for 43 years said it had been a hard struggle. “The 23 of us stuck together through cold nights and mornings.

“We just have to wait for the money to come through and then we’ll have the big get together we were supposed to have on Dec 16.”

A Vita spokesman said they were “satisfied with the outcome and welcomed the acceptance of the agreement achieved through the negotiations”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “I am relieved that a resolution has been found and a conclusion has been brought to a long period of uncertainty and anxiety for the Vita Cortex workers and their families. The workers have displayed enormous dignity and fortitude.”

Hotel invitation

After their marathon 139-day sit-in, the former Vita Cortex workers are to be pampered at a hotel.

Shay Livingstone, the general manager of Galway’s Carlton Hotel, issued an invitation to the workers last night to enjoy a two-night stay.

“I’ve been following their campaign, as has the rest of the country, and I was just delighted when I saw the breakthrough,” he said.

“And I think they all deserve a break away. They can come as a group, or individually with their partners, whatever suits them.”

Mr Livingstone is the former manager of the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork, where Vita Cortex owner Jack Ronan held talks with workers’ representatives leading to a breakthrough.

- Eoin English

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