ADRIAN RUSSELL: Sporting public playing their part as workers fight on

Former Vita Cortex workers are currently in extra-time in a fight for redundancy payments — the ‘point nine’, as they call it — on top of their statutory entitlements

In the time Alan Walsh was on Vita Cortex’s payroll, 42 Cheltenham Festivals were ran in the Cotswolds.

A van driver for the company, he might have half listened to the races on the radio as he ferried the factory’s products around Cork city, county and beyond but he’s more of a GAA man than a horse racing enthusiast.

And the 43rd festival, the one we’ve all watched this week from Prestbury Park? The 61-year-old sat in the factory with his colleagues and enjoyed it on the television that’s killed countless hours over the past few months.

“We were watching it on the television today but to be quite honest I don’t know much about the horses,” he told me this week. “I’m not really interested in them — another fella does them — but we watch it all the time.”

The other fella is Connie Griffin — ‘we call him the tipster’, shop steward Jim Power says with half a laugh.

“Yeah, he’s the horsey fella, he picks them out for us,” confirms Walsh. “We had a second and a third today so not so bad, I suppose.”

You’ll know of course by now that the former Vita Cortex workers are currently in extra-time in a fight for redundancy payments — the ‘point nine’, as they call it — on top of their statutory entitlements. It’s a deal they say is equivalent to payments made to workers who left the company in 2009 and 2010.

The company owner says he can’t afford to pay it. And here we all are, almost 100 days into a high-profile sit-in.

One writer once said sport doesn’t build character, it merely reveals it. So too, perhaps, real battles like this show what you’re made of. It’s quite clear what we’re dealing with on day 92 of this battle. But sport too has played its part in their campaign.

“It’s has been a help, yeah,” agrees Walsh. “Even at night you’d have the Champions League games to watch and it passes away two or three hours. We have a television there, they’ll have the match now tonight.”

When I ask if they hunkered down to watch the Merseyside derby on Tuesday night, I’m reminded that was shown on Sky.

There’s the usual wind-ups and ball-hopping between work-mates over this team and that player that you might engage in yourself in your own place of work. It just goes on a bit longer these days on the Kinsale Road.

Over the past three months or so some of sport’s great and good have popped in to lend their profile and support to the cause. A former dockyard union rep is now very much management but Alex Ferguson spared some of his Fergie Time to send a letter of support. One of the men he had on his Old Trafford production line, Paul McGrath popped in when on Leeside one weekend while the county’s GAA stars, led by hurling boss Jimmy Barry-Murphy, have tried to rally the troops too as best they can.

“I go to a lot of GAA games — all the Cork games now and the Barr’s,” says Walsh. “I know Jimmy, but not that well or anything but it was great he called in and lent his support I have to say. It means a lot to people.

“It’s a great boost to everyone when these people come in — Cork City FC called in twice for example, so it’s a great gee-up for people.”

Those at Turner’s Cross last Friday night applauded a half dozen or so of the workers onto the pitch at half-time in the Rebel Army’s game with Drogheda. The factory is a Dan Murray header from the turnstiles and around the corner from rugby ground Musgrave Park too.

Walsh is away from the site when we speak — the day is broken into three shifts — but he’s back there early the next morning when the Examiner’s Cheltenham supplement will be spread out and Connie will examine the card for his colleagues. Another day.

“Sport has played a big part in the campaign over the past few months. It’s probably because the city is not that big,” says Walsh. “I won’t say everybody knows everybody else but you know what I mean. Everybody would know what’s going on.”

* Adrianjrussell@gmail.comTwitter: @adrianrussell


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