Hundreds show their support for Vita Cortex workers at Dublin rally

Hundreds attended a lunchtime rally outside the Dáil yesterday in support of former Vita Cortex employees in Cork. The rally was organised by SIPTU.

The Vita Cortex workers have been engaged in a sit-in at the foam packaging plant since its closure on 16 December. They are seeking redundancy of 2.9 weeks’ pay per year of service. The owner of the business, Jack Ronan, has said his current financial position means he cannot make funds available to pay his former staff. Ronan is listed as a director of 27 companies and owns a 300-acre stud farm.

Surrounded by supporters chanting “The workers united will never be defeated,” the 20 Vita Cortex workers at the protest seemed taken aback by the support. Said one of the workers, Kevin McCabe, “We didn’t expect all this.” He explained the hardship he had faced since the closure of the plant: “My sister works there, so there are two out of my house. I spent all of Christmas day out of my home, for the first time in my life. I spent all of my Christmas day in the factory.”

His colleague Cal O’Leary was appreciative of the support they had received. “The support of the local people has been unbelievable and has kept us going,” he said. He also described his shock at finding himself in this position, fighting for his entitlements. “We believed there was money there from NAMA but it never materialised. We were led up the garden path a bit. There are some people with 47 years service and to be treated like this is a disgrace.”

Many at the protest spoke of their admiration for the workers. Some were critical of the Government’s role in the situation. United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd-Barrett was one such protest attendee. “This is going to happen to a hell of a lot more people unless we get action from the Government. I think the Vita Cortex workers are an inspiration to workers right across the country who are being threatened with job losses. It should not be allowed, that employers walk away without paying wages and redundancies. There is no way they should be able to shelter money in other companies which are in fact from the same company.”

Boyd-Barrett suggested action the Government could take, saying, “I think there should be an insurance fund set up that employers contribute to, to ensure that even in the case of liquidation, there is a fund there to pay employees their full rights and entitlements”.

In her speech at the rally SIPTU organiser Anne Egar told the crowd how much the workers appreciated the support and that they are determined to fight on.

“The amount of support they have received from the local community and nationally has been staggering, with hot food and warm clothing being delivered every day. The fight is going to go on. These workers are not going anywhere until they get what they are owed.”

She also welcomed the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) announcement that it will host talks between the parties next Tuesday. “There is an intervention with the LRC next Tuesday, to begin the process, hopefully of resolving this dispute, because resolution has to happen.”

The LRC development attracted a mixed response at the rally. Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin welcomed it. “I hope it can lead to a pathway for the resolution of this,” he said.

Mr. Boyd-Barrett was more guarded in his response. “I would hope that the LRC will come out on the right side, on the side of the workers. I wouldn’t leave anything to chance. I think the workers are doing exactly the right thing. They need to keep up the protest, they need to keep up their sit-in and look for solidarity from other workers.”

Vita Cortex worker Cal O’Leary also sounded a cautious note. “We are going to wait and see what comes out of it.”

In advance of next Tuesday’s LRC meeting, the workers will get another boost with a Cork Council of Trade Unions protest rally organised for this Saturday.

Image top: Paul Walsh.