The local economy is set for a major economic boost, after pension settlements totalling €34 million were lodged in the bank accounts of 1,251 former Waterford Crystal workers last Friday by the Department of Social Protection.
The payout was the culmination of a six and a half year battle that saw a landmark case taken to the European Court of Justice by Trade Union Unite on behalf of the workers.
Payments to a further 200 former staff at Waterford Crystal are still being processed and will be made in the coming weeks.
Weekly pension payments will also be due once the workers turn 63 or 65, depending on their entitlements.
The average tax-free lump sum payment received last Friday was between €26,000 and €30,000, with a cap of €48,000 set under the terms hammered out by the Labour Relations’ Commission last November.
Four hundred former employees of the Dungarvan factory are included in the settlement negotiated by Unite, as are the estates of 34 deceased workers.
The union’s Ireland Secretary Jimmy Kelly said the payments marked the “final step in a long battle… a battle which could never have been won by an individual acting alone”.
“Only by acting collectively through a trade union has it been possible for former Waterford Crystal workers to vindicate their rights. In that regard I would like to thank all our members for their support during this long process.”
The fight saw 10 workers, led by Tommy Hogan, take their case for pension justice to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the Irish State was in breach of its obligations under the terms of the EU Insolvency Directive to ensure that employees receive sufficient accrued occupational pension entitlements.
Pension scheme trustee and former Joint Negotiation Committee member Sean Maher said the workers had suffered an emotional ordeal since the Kilbarry factory closed in January 2009 and the company went into receivership.
“It is all over, but it has been hard won. From March 2009, when the case first entered into the Irish court system, it has been a most difficult and stressful period of time for all involved, including the families of the pension schemes members. It is just such a shame that our deceased colleagues didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of the hard work.”
Mr Maher described the settlement terms as a ‘fair and honourable result’ which, he said, would have a huge economic impact on the region.
“The lumps sums will make a great difference in the shorter term, particularly for the people who have been struggling to pay bills and keep a roof over their heads. But the fact that all these people are now guaranteed their pension when they hit the age…that is going to have a great impact in Waterford.”
The time and resources that went into bringing the case to fruition should never be underestimated by the people of Waterford, Mr Maher said.
“It has not come easy for our union Unite who fought the case for and on behalf of pension scheme members. A lot of time and resources went into this case.
“For Irish General Secretary Jimmy Kelly and now retired senior union official Walter Cullen, two former senior shop stewards and convener at the Crystal plants here in Waterford before going full time in our union, it has been a great trade union success story.”
Mr Maher stated: “Without Unite, without the finance that they put forward, without what that bought in terms of legal and actuarial expertise, this historical pension settlement would not have come about. It is an achievement that I don’t think will ever be surpassed.”
Sean Maher also paid tribute to Unite’s legal team and said credit was due to Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. “Had she not intervened, the case would still be locked up in the Irish courts.”