Negotiations between management and unions at Waterford Crystal on pending job losses will centre only on redundancy terms and timescale, the actual number of people to lose employment having been set in stone at the company’s announced figure of 490.
That’s according to a management spokesman, but the unions have a different perspective on the situation. Chief negotiator Walter Cullen, Regional Industrial Organiser for Unite, the main union involved, said his aim and that of his team was to maximise the number of jobs retained and ensure that they were secure for the future.
He said the unions had not yet seen the company’s plan but would be challenging the need for sacrificing so many jobs. Whatever number had to go, however, a minimum requirement would be that they be voluntary and that the redundancy terms were acceptable. Negotiations are expected to commence early next week.
Mr. Cullen is also demanding of Enterprise, Trade and Enterprise Minister Micheal Martin that with so many people losing their jobs in Waterford – other companies have also been shedding staff in significant numbers – he establishes a Task Force to lead a drive for replacement employment.
It will come as little consolation to those about to lose their jobs, but management has stated that none will do so before Christmas, although it wants the process completed “within a matter of months”.
The company officially confirmed on Wednesday its intention to outsource some of its production and administrative activities which would result in the loss of 490 jobs and the retention of just 510.
“The company is to take an uncompetitive portion of its manufacturing capacity at Kilbarry and outsource it along with some administrative and ‘back office’ staff”, said a statement.
John Foley, Company CEO, was quoted as saying: “Manufacturing at Kilbarry, at the present scale, has become untenable due to a combination of high costs and unfavourable currency movements which have reduced our competitiveness by tens of millions of euro in the past five years. The only way to secure the future of the operation in Waterford is to close the parts which are uncompetitive and to outsource those activities to lower cost environments which can meet the quality standards of the Waterford brand.
“We intend to cease production of several lines that are loss-making and focus the factory on the production of high quality, cost competitive products which will result in the retention of 510 jobs in Ireland. While I regret the loss of 490 jobs, it is imperative that we continue to focus on our remaining cost competitive capabilities in order to secure the future of manufacturing in Ireland, while continuing to monitor the value of the dollar.
“Group wide, Waterford Wedgwood is seeking significant cost reduction measure across manufacturing, administration, warehousing, distribution and other operations in high cost countries, with a consequent overall loss of 1,400 jobs”.
Referring to the proposed development of what he describes as “an exciting retail and tourism experience”, in association with Ballymore Properties on Waterford Crystal land at Kilbarry, Mr. Foley said it would result in the enhancement of the tourist experience at Waterford Crystal. The plan, he said, was to double the number of annual visitors to Waterford to 600,000 in the next five years.
He added: “Waterford Crystal is one of the great brands of the world and, despite adverse currency and lack of cost competitiveness, I am confident that it can be re-energised to achieve sustained profitability. The company is retaining its market share and continues to enjoy an unrivalled international reputation for the highest quality and we intend maintaining that well-earned honour into the future”.
Mayor to call meeting
The Mayor of Waterford, Cllr. Mary O’Halloran, expressed disappointment at the job loss announcement. “Since the first indication of job losses of this scale I have maintained contact with Mr. Foley and it was with regret that I heard of the company’s decision”, she said.
“On a human level the timing could hardly be worse with Christmas just around the corner and while I recognise the reality which the company faces, I would urge it to fully support the workforce in this difficult and uncertain period.
“Where job losses are inevitable, every support and re-training must be provided to those leaving the company after years of loyal service. As Mayor I intend convening as a matt4er of urgency a meeting of all the relevant enterprise and employment agencies, along with Waterford’s public representatives to review what provision is currently in place to support job creation in Waterford and the wider region. The meeting will also specifically address the needs of those losing their jobs at Waterford Crystal, whether that involves finding alternative employment or starting their own businesses”.
The Mayor went on to say the developments at Waterford Crystal again highlighted the stark reality that the city and the south east could no longer rely so heavily on large-scale traditional manufacturing employment. Rather, it now had to build towards a high-skilled knowledge economy, creating far more diverse employment. And that shift would be best achieved by re-designating WIT as a University of the South East. “This must form part of the government’s thinking in a way that has not been apparent to date”, she concluded.
Sinn Fein City Councillor David Cullinane has accused the company of going for the easiest cost-cutting option by outsourcing jobs to a low wage country, instead of remaining loyal to loyal workers.
He said his understanding was that management had set a target of 50 p.c. profit on each item, which could not be met by production in Waterford where most pieces made 35 to 40 p.c. profit. “Most companies would be very happy with that margin and seeking 50 p.c. profit smacks of corporate greed at its worst, especially when it is at the expense of workers and their livelihoods”, he said.
He went on: “The Waterford Crystal brand is synonymous with the city and I believe it is a serious mistake to transfer production from here. Outsourcing will undermine the brand and I’m concerned that management plans for investment in the tourist sector will be similarly undermined by the move”.
Cllr. Cullinane maintained it was all part of a “race to the bottom” which his party and others had warned against. “We saw it happen at Irish Ferries and we’ve seen Fruit of the Loom production transferred to low wage economies. It is appalling that an indigenous company such as Waterford Crystal should now take this step”, he commented.
Stating that he would be asking his party to raise the issue in the Dail, he appealed to the people of Waterford to support the workers in their quest to save as many jobs as possible and to secure the best possible redundancy terms for those who had to go.