“With the help of God, it won’t happen to anyone else again”. That was the message from the 23 remaining workers at the Vita Cortex plant as they ended their 161-day protest yesterday afternoon after receiving 0.9 weeks ex-gratia payments from the company's owners.
As hundreds of supporters gathered at the Kinsale Road plant in an emotional celebration, renditions of Championes Olé, Olé, Olé and The Banks of my Own Lovely Lee were in the air. However, amid the festivities, workers outlined that their situation needed to be held up as an example.
Greg Marshall, who worked with Vita Cortex for 37 years, told the Cork News that “logically" the payments "should never have taken this amount of time”.
“All we ask is that the politicians and unions get together and stop this from ever happening again. It happened to us but with the help of God, it won’t happen to anyone else again. That is the message we want to put out there,” he said.
Mr Marshall believes that if the sit-in hadn’t commenced on December 16th, then the workers “would still be waiting for statutory redundancies”. State-provided statutory redundancy payments of two weeks pay per year of service were made available to workers back in February after Vita Cortex owner Jack Ronan said he was unable to pay the €1.2 million required. “I think that we only got that because they thought we would go away. They should have taken us at our word,” he said.
Jim Power, who worked as a driver at the foam manufacturing plant for 42 years, outlined that he has spoken to the leaders of the country’s political parties on the issue of law change. “I’ve met the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, Gerry Adams and Richard Bruton and everyone expressed their sorrow for us and said that this was all being done through loopholes in company law. It’s about time that was changed so that this will never happen again,” he said.
He added that while he could not divulge the final amount paid- agreed three weeks ago- he could confirm, “everyone did well”.
Stepping away from the gates of Vita Cortex, Mr Power said it was a bittersweet victory, having worked in the plant for over four decades. “It was such a part of my life, as I came in as a 14 year-old young fellow and now I won’t be back again. Obviously there’s emotion. However, at the end of the day, what's done is done. We started the struggle five months ago and we saw it through to the end,” added Mr Power.
His daughter Joanne said that she was proud of the stance the workers took. “If it was a group my own age, I don’t think we would have stuck with it for as long as they did. It’s because of their generation, the fact that they are very hard workers, which meant they continued the fight.
“I often asked dad did he feel like packing it in, but he wouldn’t. Honestly I didn’t think it would end, but today just shows they did the right thing,” she said.
Greg Marshall’s daughter, Veronica, who set up the online Facebook campaign with Darren O’Keefe, added that they were overwhelmed by the public support. “We generally didn’t think at the start that it would turn into what it did, as the Facebook page now has just short of 9,000 friends. It was insane how it grew but showed what support the workers had,” she said.