As Waterford Crystal workers continue their occupation of the Kilbarry factory, while other employees either maintain the furnace and guide tourists around the showrooms, Minister Martin Cullen has expressed ‘cautious optimism’ that the flagship industry can be rescued – though he’s emphasised it won’t be easy.
Stressing that the high-level talks ongoing between the receiver, potential investors and Government representatives are “complex” and “difficult”, Mr Cullen said the State isn’t interested in backing a token visitor attraction, but wants to ensure that a proper manufacturing presence is safeguarded and developed.
Waterford Crystal workers are supporting a bid for the company made by Clarion Capital, a consortium involving the respective former CEOs of Waterford Crystal and Waterford Wedgwood plc, John Foley and Peter Cameron.
They made a low-key arrival at the local plant this morning for private discussions with Receiver David Carson, and may meet with shop stewards this afternoon.
Mr Carson abruptly pulled the plug on production at ‘The Glass’ at 3pm last Friday, sparking an angry reaction from the hundred-or-so workers on-site, who immediately rallied and took over the canteen and visitor gallery areas amid scuffles with security men.
The round-the-clock sit-in staged to prevent the premises from being locked was kept up throughout the weekend with a rota of 60-plus employees at a time. Local shops have been supplying those ‘on shift’ with food and drink, while blankets and sleeping bags have also been brought inside.
Over 2,000 current and past employees and supporters gathered at the factory on Saturday to show their solidarity. A march is planned for Wednesday from Paddy Browns Road to the showrooms.
US-based Clarion says its bid, which it’s understood relates to the crystal division only, would retain around 300 jobs at the factory, with a guaranteed 10-year contract in the offing if a deal can be struck. American equity firm KPS Capital Partners is apparently only interested in buying the brand name and shifting all production to cheap labour markets like eastern Europe.
Walter Cullen from the Unite trade union, which represents 90% of the workforce, says his members are happy to discuss the Clarion bid and believe the Government should nationalise Waterford Crystal rather than let the KPS offer go through.
He said the response from the community “shows that this is more than a job, more than a plant. It is a community built by generations of Waterford people.”
His namesake, Minister Cullen, is of the view that the Clarion package – confirmed by Mr Foley on Saturday night – is in Waterford’s best interests. He said he can understand the emotions of workers, who were left “looking at Armageddon” after Friday’s sudden shut-down. The complexities faced include the €111m pension fund deficit the company is saddled with.
As advised by their union, all employees originally scheduled to work on Monday turned up as usual this morning, even though no glassware is being produced.
Unite Irish secretary Jimmy Kelly, who’s been locked in talks for days, said this morning that he’s received assurances from the highest levels of Government concerning the possibility of a State acquisition of the visitor centre if necessary as part of a rescue plan.