After 161 days, Vita staff’s ‘emotional rollercoaster’ ends

There were hugs, kisses, the odd tear, and a determined message that the Government must ensure workers get their just entitlements as one of the longest sit-ins in industrial relations history ended.

After 161 days, Vita staff’s ‘emotional rollercoaster’ ends

Many of the 23 who had occupied the Vita Cortex plant in Cork for 161 days since Christmas said it had been “an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows” as they fought to get redundancy payments of €1.2m from owner Jack Ronan.

During the sit-in, Henry O’Reilly, 59, was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and told he had tumours in the liver, spleen, and pancreas.

He underwent chemotherapy and experts have told him that the tumours are shrinking.

Henry worked for the company for 40 years and said he “felt guilty” that he wasn’t able to join the sit-in for as many days as he’d liked.

He and his colleagues mounted the campaign as the owner refused to pay 0.9 weeks’ pay per year of service on top of their statutory entitlements. The money was paid into their accounts in the past few days.

“The last creditors of a company are the employees and that’s wrong. After the State they should be the second. The Government has to prioritise the protection of workers, especially in the current economic climate,” said Henry.

Helen Crowley said she’d find it hard to sleep in her own bed. She stayed 123 nights in the factory — more than anyone else. “We were also lucky that the winter wasn’t like the previous one because we could never have stayed overnight in that cold,” she said. “In a way it’s sad leaving here because the camaraderie we built up was great. I worked here for 26 years,” she said.

Denis Ryan, an employee for 40 years, said that during “low times” it was heartening how many people gave food and came in for a supportive chat.

A Facebook site was set up for the workers and got messages of support from as far away as Korea.

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