Labour members should support the Vita Cortex protest

March 17, 2012 4:16 pm

While St. Patrick’s Day may be a time of celebration it also offers an opportunity to highlight a factory sit-in taking place in the Republic of Ireland that is now just over three months old. It is a sorry story of good people being denied redundancy payments. The dignity the protesters have shown throughout their sit-in should serve as an inspiration to those whose employment rights are under threat.

The protest began in the Vita Cortex factory in Cork in the run up to Christmas last year. On December 16th the 32 employees of the plant were informed that they were to be made redundant with immediate effect but without any redundancy payments. This was particularly shocking given the commitment they had shown to the company. Between them they had worked at the plant, which produces foam products for furniture, for a total of 847 years, some of the longest serving had been there for over 40 years.

Since then the former workers have been present in the factory continuously – including on what must have been a particularly heartrending Christmas Day. They have promised not to leave until they are given the full payments due to them. The conditions are tough. They sleep in a cold drafty factory. Mice can often be heard scuttling across the factory floor. However, the tedium and monotony of their time at the plant has been broken by the massive swell of support for the campaign.

The former workers have received messages of support from figures such as Mary Robinson, Sir Alex Ferguson, Christy Moore, Cillian Murphy and Paul McGrath. Indeed, it was McGrath who captured the essence of the situation when he said: “I thought Ireland was better than this”. In February, 5000 people took to the streets of Cork in support of the sit-in.

Recently the Irish Labour Party’s leader, Eamon Gilmore, also Ireland’s Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and foreign minister, met a delegation of former workers and promised to do what he could to help. He also recognised that three months of living on a factory floor was taking its toll on the workers, 90% of whom are between 50 and 65 years old. Although the government has paid some money to those made redundant it is not the amount they should have received from Vita Cortex which has recently paid out €2.5 million to three shareholders.

The former workers’ cause is just and important. This is not only because of the appalling behaviour of their former employers. There are wider issues at stake. Some unscrupulous companies in Ireland will be watching closely how this stand-off will be resolved to see how far they can go in their dealings with employees. Labour Party members in the UK should take note because we need to be vigilant about the erosion of workers’ rights both home and abroad. It is a trend that Unite has described as a growing tendency for workers to be ‘left in the cold’ after they have been made redundant. In light of this the Labour Party Irish Society unanimously voted in favour of a motion in support of the former workers’ protest.

The Vita Cortex workers did not ask for this but they are at the front line of a battle to protect workers’ rights. I urge those who believe that employment rights need to be protected to do what they can to help the campaign.

For more information on how you can support their campaign please visit the Vita Cortex workers’ website – http://vitacortexworkers.wordpress.com/how-you-can-support-the-protest/

Latest

  • News Polling Labour and Tories will win the same number of seats, says top pollster

    Labour and Tories will win the same number of seats, says top pollster

    Most political commentators seem to be hedging their bets a little with their predictions for next year’s election, but none have gone quite so far as respected pollster Peter Kellner (President of YouGov) who reckons that Labour and the Tories will win exactly the same number of seats. In the new copy of Prospect, Kellner raises no eyebrows when he says: “My own current guess is that both Labour and the Conservatives will fall short of outright victory.” Neither is it […]

    Read more →
  • Featured We need Graf and Grafters

    We need Graf and Grafters

    As my colleague Conor has pointed out, there is quite a lot of good news coming out of the latest Ashcroft polling for Labour. But there are some worrying messages too. The polling in Southampton Itchen is much too close for comfort as was the Thurrock polling in a previous round. Equally worry are the reports from voters of lack of activity they are seeing (or possibly noticing) from political parties. Only 16% are saying they have had any contact […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour will revoke energy companies’ licences if they breach agreed conditions, says Flint

    Labour will revoke energy companies’ licences if they breach agreed conditions, says Flint

    Today Caroline Flint MP, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, will lay out the difference between Labour’s and the Conservatives approach to energy. As part of Labour’s summer campaign, Flint is set to give a speech in which she will reveal new figures that show since 2010 household energy bills have risen four times as fast as wages and twice as fast as inflation. She will say that the Government has not been effective in ensuring that energy companies are held […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Will the Tory MP who wants to charge patients to use the NHS debate me?

    Will the Tory MP who wants to charge patients to use the NHS debate me?

    Earlier this week, Channel 4’s “Dispatches” asked if we are addicted to our doctors. It highlighted the increasing pressure the NHS is under and some of the costs associated with those pressures. My opponent in Bristol North West – Tory MP Charlotte Leslie – said that, in respect of A&E and GP surgery appointments that are deemed unnecessary, that “…we do need a charge I think to just enable people to think a little bit about what their use of […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Free information and free broadband – business policies of the future?

    Free information and free broadband – business policies of the future?

    Us folk in business are a straightforward lot. Yes, we like big picture ideas and visions of the future – but we also need real-life, practical policies and plans. And with nine months to go until the general election the business community is hungry for greater clarity on what Labour business policy will actually be. The latest offering from Policy Network, Owning The Future, edited by Chuka Umunna, is rich in big ideas about Britain’s role in the global economy. […]

    Read more →