Waterford Crystal Workers Occupy Factory

Feb. 2, 2009
Company ceases production after efforts fail to find 'white knight'

Workers occupying the factory of Ireland's troubled Waterford Crystal pledged on Jan. 31 to continue their sit-in until the future of the company is resolved. Workers started their occupation of the Kilbarry factory and visitor center in Waterford city on Jan. 30 after an official who has been running the company for almost a month informed staff that production would cease immediately.

Walter Cullen, organizer in south-east Ireland for the Unite trade union, said they wanted the closure reversed while talks about the future of the company continued. "We will continue to sit in until the situation is resolved. We have huge support," Cullen said. He said they had staged the sit-in because they believed the business was much more attractive as a going concern.

Waterford Wedgwood, the maker of high-quality china and glass, went into administration and receivership and its shares were suspended on January 5 after efforts to find a "white knight" investor failed.

The official said the decision to cease manufacturing did not "necessarily preclude a resumption of operations in Waterford in the future."

Cullen said the receiver had been in discussions with two potential buyers, U.S.-based investors KPS Capital and Clarion Capital.

The glass business, originally founded in the late 18th century, has been one of Waterford's major employers. Cullen said 480 of 650 workers had received termination notices. "Most of these workers would have long service and be aged in the 45 to 50 bracket. Even for the younger people, the chances of them getting alternative jobs are not great. "We have had huge crises in the past. There have been nine restructuring plans put in place since 1987 and we have managed to resolve all those and move the company forward all the time."

The glassworks visitor center has become an import factor in local tourism, attracting about 300,000 visitors a year.

Waterford mayor Jack Walsh said the decision to close had come as a "huge shock."

"While there has been a clear awareness for some time now of how serious the situation faced by the company is, the soundings coming out of the discussions with the two interested parties from the US gave people reason to believe that a sale could be completed without the doors being closed at Kilbarry," Walsh said.

The once-booming Irish economy will have shrunk up to 10% by 2010, Prime Minister Brian Cowen said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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