As Waterford Crystal workers commenced a three-day week on Monday, the news sank in that the best they can hope for following the collapse of the company is a statutory redundancy payment and re-employment by the ‘new’ Waterford Crystal for one year – though not necessarily on the same wages as previously.
There has been no communication between UNITE, the union representing the majority of Crystal employees and KPS Capital Partners since last week and the workers remain in limbo as to the details of the New York-based equity firm’s proposed takeover. However they have been informed that a KPS buyout will mean the establishment of a ‘new’ company to manufacture stem wear crystal. All existing workers will be let go and receive their statutory redundancy payment, after which 250 to 350 will be re-employed by the ‘new’ Waterford Crystal on new terms.
Over 500 current and retired Waterford Crystal workers met with union officials last Saturday, following a series of meetings with representatives of KPS and the Government last week. Unite’s regional organiser, Walter Cullen, told the Crystal workers that this was the beginning of a process through which it was hoped to secure a future for the company in Waterford. “We do not want to offer false hope but while talks continue and the manufacturing operation continues as a going concern we must maintain a cautious optimism”, he said.
Workers were told that KPS was willing to take a one year option to invest €100m in risk capital in the Crystal, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton operations. After this time, they would reconsider their options in the city, depending on the level of support they had received from the IDA and the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism (the latter in terms of the Kilbarry-based visitor centre, which currently attracts 320,000 visitors annually).
The KPS announcement does not bode well for Crystal’s pension scheme, since the firm is only prepared to take on the company’s assets. Workers already distraught over the possible closure of the company by the receiver and failure to honour contractual obligations relating to redundancy terms were further distressed this week to learn that a holiday fund to which many have subscribed over the years could also be lost. The fund is understood to be worth up to €100,000.
Over 200 employees who left the company before Christmas, some with service in excess of 45yrs, were left with only their statutory redundancy payment and, from 5th January, 40% of their twelve month phased remaining redundancy entitlement is to be paid on a week-to-week only basis by Receiver David Carson. It is unclear how much longer Mr Carson can keep the factory open before he runs out of money, if a buyer is not secured.
Meanwhile a statement from the Waterford Council of Trade Unions issued on Monday has expressed grave concern about the situation at Waterford Crystal. A spokesperson has called on the Government to appease pension concerns by introducing a Pension Protection Fund similar to that of the UK, using the National Pension Reserve Fund.