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It is now 5O years since I started working for the Irish Sugar factory in Mallow. My first day working there was October 8, 1965. I was trained into the quality control section. Some of my colleagues were Tadgh Quill BSC who was chief chemist and John Buckley RIP was the quality supervisor and also the chairman of Mallow Urban District Council.
As I now look back to that time 50 years ago. No one could have ever predicted that the Sugar Company and Mallow Urban District Council would eventually not exist. They both played such a major role in the local economy.
At that time 600 were employed in Mallow sugar factory during the beet campaigns. And a further 400 were employed by Erin Foods; which was also owned by Irish Sugar.
A combined employment of around 1,000 people. A great percentage of these workers were from the Duhallow area (North West Cork). There was a lot of hard work during the beet campaigns. Such as picking stones in the lime kiln, loading pulp into the lorries and also loading sugar.
Very few local Mallow people actually worked in the sugar factory.
During my time with Mallow Sugar factory I worked in 14 beet campaigns. From my experience I believe the sugar company committed a great injustice in their treatment of the seasonal workers. Long term, full-time employees received large five figure sums to take early retirement at 60 and received a pension. Whereas seasonal workers with many years’ service did not receive any compensation or entitlements.
Because of this injustice I eventually became involved in the Mallow sugar factory union. I had previously been a shop steward and a member of the joint negotiation committee when I worked for a company in England for a few years. I was the first seasonal worker in the sugar factory to enter the union.
I wanted the management to implement a severance package and put a pension scheme in place for season workers.
Because I raised these issues at union meetings and with management I was never recalled for the 1986 beet campaign.
Up to that time I had an excellent attendance record and I was always a good worker and I was also in charge of a station in factory for a number of years.
For many years after 1986 when I applied for the campaign I was never re-employed by them. I will leave them to God.
In 1990 the then Finance minister Albert Reynolds sold about 55% of Sugar Company to Greencore. Soon after that they also sold 20% to Greencore. And kept a 25% “golden” share which was to be used as a veto to make sure Greencore could not sell or close the sugar company; without the minister for agricultural approval.
Mary Coughlan never used the veto in 2006 when Greencore decided to take EU Compensation and close down the last sugar factory.
I have recently drafted a book about the sugar company — and my own search for justice — which I hope a publisher would be interested in bringing out.
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