Waterford Crystal union representatives believe there is a ‘definite possibility’ that a second company could take over the large-scale production of stemware at Kilbarry, following the purchase of the business by US-based private equity firm KPS Capital Partners last week.
UNITE’s Walter Cullen said KPS had indicated they were prepared to enter into talks with any company who were interested in running the manufacturing facility. Local sources, however, fear this may not be viable since KPS would only purchase the Waterford-made stemware at highly competitive prices compared to Eastern Europe. To operate under such terms, any production company would have to trim costs to the bone and, presumably, could only offer workers low wages.
Receiver David Carson announced last week that WWRD Holdings Limited, a company newly formed by KPS, would acquire certain Irish and UK assets of Waterford Wedgwood, including Waterford Crystal, under the terms of the purchase agreement. The sale is expected to be completed later this month.
In previous discussions with UNITE, KPS indicated it would retain a ‘tourist factory’ at Kilbarry, requiring 145 staff in sales and marketing roles and also the manufacture of ‘prestige’ items, such as trophies. A further 120 administration jobs would be safeguarded for a six month period, after which KPS would decide whether these positions should stay in Waterford or be centralised to another location. Speaking to The Munster Express, Mr Cullen said the union had no reason to believe KPS had changed its mind on this original proposal.
The sit-in at Waterford Crystal’s Visitor Centre continues this week, with union officials meeting Tourism Minister Martin Cullen in Dublin late on Tuesday evening to discuss the ongoing pensions issue and any possible Government intervention. UNITE officials are understood to be seeking a Government guarantee whereby workers would have 75% of their pensions protected.
The union has vowed to continue its protest at the Visitor’s Centre until an agreement is accepted by the workers. Throughout ongoing discussions with KPS, UNITE has reiterated its calls to maintain a manufacturing facility in Waterford and provide compensation for those who will not be re-employed, as well as protect the pension entitlements of those who put their entire working lives into the company.
It is believed that the possible exclusion of about 150 former factory workers who were promoted to lower and middle management in recent years from a €10m compensation offer from KPS could be destined for the Labour Court for final arbitration. UNITE officials are fighting to have this offer increased.