Though production may not resume until next year, there’s optimism that Waterford Crystal will once again be crafted at Kilbarry, while the world renowned Visitors’ Centre is due to reopen by Easter.
A consortium of local business people led by architect Nicky Fewer is currently examining the viability of producing ‘high end’ crystal to sell to the company’s new owners, US investment firm KPS Capital Partners. It is anticipated that this ‘not for profit’ outfit might be in operation by the end of the year, with the creation of some 50 jobs.
The past few days have been anticlimactic for hundreds of workers, as they ended their two-month sit-in at the Visitors’ Centre. At a meeting last Sunday the workers voted to accept the terms of a Transitional Services Agreement negotiated in recent weeks between the UNITE trade union, KPS and the receiver, which provides for the retention of 176 jobs for the next six months.
‘Best we can get’
The workers decided to cease their sit-in amidst fears the €10 million offered by KPS to workers in lieu of ex-gratia payments was being taken off the table if the sit-in was not brought to an end. One worker devastated by the events of recent weeks told The Munster Express “it’s the best we can get at this stage’, while another said it meant a ‘spark of a future’ for some.
Up to 120 of the jobs will be back-office positions, though workers have been told that employment in certain departments may not extend for six months. A further 80 skilled artisan workers would be required ay the visitors’ centre, along with 25 to 35 full time and 40 to 50 part-time workers in the retail operation. The Visitors’ Centre is due to reopen shortly and remain open for at least six months; KPS has been given the option of extending this arrangement for a further 12 months.
Discussions regarding how the job selection process is to be undertaken have not commenced, though regional industrial organiser with Unite Walter Cullen the possibility of work share was being looked at, where feasible.
KPS has entered into joint task force negotiations with Prestige Co, the group headed up by Nicky Fewer, to examine the viability of a ‘high end’ manufacturing operation at Crystal. This task force is to confirm within the next six to eight weeks whether a viable business has been identified and, should Prestige Co decide to commence production at Kilbarry, it is anticipated that a minimum of 50 jobs will be created within three months, with actual production to commence early next year. KPS have committed to entering into supply contracts with Prestige Co which will guarantee purchase of the crystal at competitive price structures.
Also under discussion is the possibility of relocating the Visitors’ Gallery to the city centre, a move designed to maximise the potential of both the gallery and related benefits for the city centre. Monica Leech, CEO of Waterford’s Chamber of Commerce, said the imminent reopening of the Gallery would be especially welcome within the tour operator and cruise industries, many of which are currently planning their 2010 brochures. The possible relocation of the Visitors’ Centre, MS Leech, said was ‘visionary but probably further down the road’.
The existing tank furnace to is to be shut down over the next 25 days and, depending on the conclusions reached by the Prestige Co task force, either the new business will proceed with the existing furnace or a new smaller furnace will be ordered. The company’s appointed receiver remains the owner of the Cork Road property and KPS will be leasing the Visitor’s Centre for the initial six month period.
The workers, who have felt completely abandoned by the Government over the past few weeks, say they will fight the failure to fulfil their obligations under the EU pensions solvency directive. Unite’s Walter Cullen said the union would not be ruling our any form of legal action to get justice for its members, while Gerry Moriarty of the Irish Association of Pension Funds said this week that the union could indeed be successful if it were to take the Government to court for not protecting their pensions. Many workers have lost over two thirds of their pension benefit, after over 30 years of contributions.
Mayor of Waterford, Cllr Jack Walsh, has welcomed the end of the sit-in at the Waterford Crystal plant but said there are still concerns about the pension rights of workers and their families.
“While recognising that this leaves many families in a very difficult situation, I welcome the fact that the workforce has accepted the recommendation of the shop-stewards that the Kevin Foley report be accepted. The issues surrounding the pensions of Waterford Crystal workers are crucial and I hope that ICTU will be able to achieve a positive outcome.
“The fact that the gates will be open again will mean that the new operators will be able to take advantage of any improvement in the general economic environment. While the present situation is still deeply worrying, a successful outcome of the present proposals will give some hope for the future,” the Mayor concluded.