The occupation, which began on 26 December by the 32 sacked workers in Vita Cortex is rightly seen as inspirational by other workers up and down the country. They have almost 900 years of service between them, are forced to sleep on the factory floor and endure the harsh damp building throughout Christmas and continue to endure such hardships.
Having callously sacked the Cork workers without one cent of redundancy Jack Ronan is threatening the loss of another 60 jobs in his Athlone plant because of the bad publicity he is receiving. His claim of inability to pay is spurious.
As reported by Justine McCarthy “In addition to Vita Cortex, which operates on eight sites North and South of the Irish border, Ronan has a 300-acre stud farm, two crèches, various plots of development land, a piggery, an extensive residential property portfolio, a retail park, forestry, a couple of supermarkets, a furniture factory in England, and a boar station. He has 27 directorships listed with the Companies Registration Office and won the Irish Field “breeder of the year” award last August for a racehorse called Cape Blanco.” Sunday Times 8 January 2012.
The vast wealth of Jack Ronan must be used to pay the Vita Cortex workers the money that they are owed. The government must act to ensure this and if necessary, directly seize his assets. In reality, the plant was productive and had a full order book with increasing evidence that the work of the Cork plant has been shipped to Athlone.
There was never any justification for the job losses with the Cork plant being closed to pay the bad debts incurred by the company’s millionaire owners. Instead of closure, jobs should be maintained in a publicly owned factory that could provide much needed jobs in an area of mass unemployment.
As we go to press the dispute is to go before the Labour Relations Commission (LRC). The decisions of the LRC are non-binding and the owners of Vita Cortex have already shown their contempt for workers’ rights. The trade union movement must fully mobilise behind the Vita Cortex workers. There should be full use of the huge public support the workers have received, including mass protests and collections. As well as pressure on the government to force Jack Ronan to pay up, the union movement should look at an industrial response. SIPTU members in Athlone should be asked to black any work coming from the Cork plant in a show of solidarity. The workers from Cork could consider appealing to these workers directly for support and SIPTU should facilitate visits between workers in Cork and Athlone to establish much needed links and discuss what can be done.
Hitting Vita Cortex directly in the pocket could move the situation forward and win a major victory for Vita Cortex workers, and working people generally. The Fine Gael and Labour government must also be put under massive pressure. Jack Ronan can’t be allowed to hide behind “company law” to avoid his responsibility – if he won’t pay up the government should seize his assets!