Thursday, March 8, 2012
Ní neart go cur le chéile - Unity is strength
In Vita Cortex Factory
This blog travelled to Cork to meet with workers from the Vita Cortex company early on Thursday morning. Thirty two workers were paid off just before Christmas. They have occupied the factory since then. Eighty four days in all. Some of the workers showed me around. It’s an old plant. Cold and drafty and very basic but for some of the workers it was their livelihood for 40 years.
The owner Jack Ronan and the management committed to paying a redundancy package of 2.9 weeks, that is, two weeks statutory and 0.9 gratis per year of employment.
Other Vita Cortex workers in Navan in 2007 and Dublin in 2008 and workers laid off in Cork previously were paid this amount. But not this group of workers. The owner claims he can’t afford it. The workers don’t believe him. Neither do I.
The workers sit-in has attracted widespread support in Cork, across the island and from overseas.
There have been efforts to resolve the dispute, including with the Labour Relations Commission, but thus far without success.
The state has paid the two weeks statutory payment. But Labour Minister Joan Burton has warned that what money the workers get will be clawed back by her department as part payment of the two weeks redundancy that has been paid.
Last week the workers were offered half of the outstanding money due them from Vita Cortex. They rejected that, and discussions between their union and the shareholders continues.
Regular readers of this blog will be reminded of the Visteon dispute in west Belfast in March 2009. At that time Visteon, which was established by Ford and supplied parts to the company, closed its west Belfast and two others in Britain with the loss of hundreds of jobs.
Visteon workers in west Belfast, with the support of the local community, successfully took a stand against the injustice of the closure and the efforts of a huge multi-national company to steal from them many of the pension and other rights they were entitled to under hard fought for agreements.
Six weeks after they began their occupation the workers marched out of the plant united and proud. They understood the importance of - Ní neart go cur le chéile - Unity is strength. Because of that they secured from the Visteon Corporation a compensation package, which while not as fair as it should have been was much, much better than Visteon intended it to be.
Serious questions still remain about the behaviour of the Ford Motor Company and of the Visteon Management about the transfer of pension schemes and company assets. The campaign for justice for Visteon workers, and the effort to uncover the full facts surrounding the decisions taken by the company which led to the closure of the plant, goes on.
So there was a sense of déjà vu when I sat down with the Vita Cortex workers and listened to their account of years of dedicated service to the company and then the manner in which the company then treated them.
One worker – Helen Crowley – proudly showed me the large piece of foam which she sleeps on each night she stays in the factory. I told her it reminded me of the mattresses the men in the H Blocks slept on during the protest.
The local shinners have been hugely supportive of the workers and they acknowledge that. I was there to extend our solidarity and support.
It is shameful the way the Vita Cortex workers are being treated and what they and their families are going through to get what are very modest entitlements.
At the same time it’s very uplifting to see the spirit of the workers and to know that they have significant support in Cork, across the island and abroad.
Vita Cortex owner Jack Ronan is behaving in a most unpatriotic way. He should honour his pledge to these workers. I don’t begrudge him his wealth but it was created by people like those who are in occupation of the Vita Cortex factory. And they deserve their rights and entitlements.
I also think it is vitally important that what is happening here never happens again to any other workforce. It is very clear that there is not sufficient legislative protection for workers in this state.
While Sinn Féin TDs Jonathon O Brien and Peadar Toibin are looking at bringing in legislation this is really a matter for the government. And we intend to press them on that.
In the meantime if you have a minute write a letter of support to the workers. They will put it up on the walls of their temporary canteen to join the many other messages of solidarity they have received.
Send it to Protesting Workers, Vita Cortex factory, Kinsale Road. Cork.