While we are disappointed by the remarks made today, in the press, by Sean McHenry we are obviously not surprised. The comments are representative of the intransigent approach which the management and owners of Vita Cortex have taken towards the dispute since day one. Sadly, Mr.Henry is conveying an alarming lack of appreciation regarding the situation and an extremely skewed interpretation not only of the circumstances that led to the sit-in but also of the resultant campaign.
We would now like to address several specific points that Mr McHenry made in his statement:
1) Regarding what he describes as “blackmail designed to secure additional ex gratia payments from the personal funds of the directors.” The use of the word ‘blackmail’ is an ill thought-out use of emotive language in order to distort public perceptions of the reality and the motivations behind the Vita Cortex workers’ campaign. There has been no blackmail. The protest has been a dignified and honourable action aimed at ensuring that Sean McHenry &Jack Ronan honour the commitments they made to the workers. We can only assume that Mr. McHenry has been unsettled by a campaign which has shone a light on his lack of will to contribute constructively and bring about a just resolution. He has left 32 workers, who served the company loyally for 847 years between them, to endure 68 days living a factory in an attempt to secure their rightful redundancies.
2) Regarding his assertion that “There is no legal entitlement to such payments and no promises were made in respect of them.” SIPTU has repeatedly stated that all discussions & negotiations, from the point in September at which the decision was taken to close the factory to Thursday on December 16th last year, were centred on 2.9 weeks per year of service. Also, 2.9 weeks was the figure communicated by management to workers when they were called together to be told of the forthcoming closure. Furthermore, it is misleading to say that “The basis for the claim is that the company paid 0.9 weeks ex gratia when it closed the Navan factory four years ago.”
In the summer of 2008, the VITA CORTEX (DUBLIN) LTD. factory closed. All the employees were paid 2.9 weeks redundancy. There were no arguments. How could there have been arguments for there were no discussions. It was just paid and that was that.
There is also the fact that between the years 2009- 2011 workers at the Cork plant, across functions such as purchasing, production and sales, all received the accepted Vita Cortex standard redundancy payment of 2 weeks statutory and 0.9 of week a week per year of service. Mr. McHenry should have included this information in his statement is he is championing the cause of balanced reporting.
4) Regarding his claim that “Poorly informed ‘personalities’ are being lulled into lending their names and support” to this campaign. It is shocking that Mr. McHenry has chosen to insult the intellect of a world renowned theorist in the form of Noam Chomsky, a former president of Ireland and UN Rights Commissioner in Mary Robinson, one of the most successful football managers of all time, in Sir Alex Ferguson and one of Ireland’s most popular musicians – Christy Moore. Sorry, but this point is laughable and smacks of poorly advised spin. We can assure Mr. McHenry that the situational appraisal skills of all the aforementioned individuals are in tact.
5) Regarding his assertion and belief that “fair-minded people” would not support the direct action aspects of this campaign. We would disagree. The people of Cork and far beyond have backed and continue to back our stand. We have received incredible support from the public at all protests, rallies and pickets. This includes our demonstrations outside the homes of directors, at recreation clubs used by directors and enterprises connected to the commercial interests of these directors. Does Mr. McHenry believe that fair-minded people want to send a message to the business community that it is acceptable to give somebody your word and to then turn around walk away from your responsibilities and the promises that you make? Honesty and honour ought to be universal values from which business and commercialism should not be exempt. However, Mr. McHenry and Jack Ronan seem content to clutch onto their wealth at all costs and allow the tax payers to pay their debts.
6) Regarding Mr. McHenry’s reference to the payment of the workers’ statutory redundancies and in particular to the amounts involved. This is cleary a cynical attempt to dilute the support that the workers have received by throwing sums of money around without relating those figures to the duration of service. Has he forgotten that Sean Kelleher worked at Vita Cortex for 47 years – nearly half a century? Has he forgotten that Jimmy Power and Cal O’Leary both worked for over 40 years to help create the wealth which he enjoys today? It would seems that he has indeed. His statement, in this regard, was a callous effort to take advantage of the economic plight that many ordinary, Irish people are experiencing at the moment. He wants people in Cork to look at the Vita Cortex workers and think – Well they got their statutory payments but I am struggling to meet my mortgage and pay my ESB bills – thus turning people off the workers’ cause so that he and Mr.Ronan can swan off into the sunset. People of great wealth & influence have tried for generations to divide and thus conquer ordinary, working people in Ireland. They have always failed. We see through it. The middle-class merchants of Dublin failed in 1913 and the merchant-princes of Cork & Tipperary will fail in 2012.
It would seem to us that Mr. McHenry is extremely frustrated. He is frustrated because he believed that the struggle of the Vita Cortex Workers would simply be another sad tale to be casually swept under the rug of recessionary Ireland. But he was wrong. Thirty-two people, that he and Jack Ronan clearly felt were beneath them, have stood up in defiance of unfair treatment. Their stand has caught the imagination and fuelled the passion of the Irish public. The ordinary people of this country have stood behind the Vita Cortex workers because they see their struggle as being representative of the daily dose of oppression and dis-empowerment being meted out to them by detached politicians, reckless bosses and an inequitable political system.
We call on Sean McHenry and Jack Ronan to direct their energy into finding a fair and equitable resolution as soon as possible rather than engaging in slurs and unproductive behaviour.
Mr McHenry, the Vita Cortex story is not a work of fiction. This is a true story. Watch out for the ending, it will be a hum-dinger.
Darren O’Keeffe & Veronica Marshall
Coordinators of the Support the Vita Cortex Workers Online Campaign