Short-time working will commence at Waterford Crystal next week as talks continue towards tying up a possible takeover of the company and the preservation of jobs – albeit on terms that many employees may find unpalatable.
With Receiver David Carson slashing costs throughout the business, staff at Kilbarry were told on Wednesday that a three-day week (eliminating Thursday and Friday) will take effect from January 19.
After holding talks with Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Coughlan and her cabinet colleague Martin Cullen the previous afternoon, prospective purchasers KPS Capital Partners yesterday met with the main workers’ union Unite.
With retaining jobs in the city and pension provision the union’s top priorities, it was agreed that there would be no detailed comment on how the meeting went until members have been briefed by shop stewards at two general meetings tomorrow (Saturday).
Union leaders will meet current staff and those members who left the company under the voluntary redundancy scheme last year at 11.30am in the Tower Hotel (for the 3/64 Branch) and 2.30pm in the Crystal Sports & Social Centre (3/86 Branch).
In a brief teatime statement, the union merely confirmed that yesterday’s meeting “covered areas including employment levels, investment levels, a time-scale for decision on the investment, the role of the government and the role of Unite.”
Though unsubstantiated speculation, the talk is that New York-based KPS have indicated that they could keep 200-250 jobs at Kilbarry. However, those workers retained would have to ‘start from scratch’ as effective new employees, foregoing statutory redundancy and other existing entitlements, and accepting reduced wages.Local union chiefs also met Ministers Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin and officials from the Departments of Finance and Social and Family Affairs in midweek as part of an ICTU delegation on the issue of pension protection.
The potential plight of pensioners and workers at Waterford Crystal was “a key discussion point”. This was raised as part of a broader discussion about how Ireland is out of step with fellow EU member states – including Britain, where nearly 1,900 Wedgwood employees are based – in terms of the protection it offers to workers in situations of insolvency.
“The government is aware at the highest level of the impact the Waterford employment and pension uncertainty is having on so many workers and their families,” said Unite Irish Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly afterwards. “Today was all about stating our case. We have been told the issues will now be considered as a matter of urgency across the departments.”
Despite the ongoing buy-out negotiations, the disposition of the 800-strong Waterford workforce is described as despondent. Campbell Catering put their 30 or so staff in the plant’s canteen on protective notice this week.
Already former Crystal employees who took redundancy, but are yet to reach retirement age, have had their agreed weekly payments stopped; and many have been told that their promised lump sum will not materialise.
Though the €2.1m total outlay was up from €1.6m, this was due to the fact that the directorship had increased from 11 to 14, following the promotion of some managers, during the intervening 12 months.
Crystal CEO John Foley resigned on Tuesday, saying recent events were devastating for everyone associated with the company.
“Proud” that management and staff had “worked tirelessly” to try and ensure the company’s survival, the Limerick man is “hopeful that, under new ownership, the brand and the Irish dimension of the business will continue in the long-term. Despite the many obvious issues in the business, the Waterford brand continues to be the market leader in the US, Ireland and Britain and, although market conditions have been extremely difficult, the brand is as strong as it ever has been,” he maintained.
Waterford Crystal continued to trade this week, though 367 of the 1,868 workers in Wedgwood’s British operations (currently under administration) were informed on Monday that they were losing their jobs, with further cuts anticipated.
Meanwhile, after hostile reaction to the news among the workforce, the company has moved to clarify the increased payments received by the board of Waterford Wedgwood last year.