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Bausch and Lomb management willing to meet union in bid to halt planned work stoppages

The action is due to start at the company’s Waterford plant tomorrow.

The stoppages take place at midday tomorrow.
The stoppages take place at midday tomorrow.
Image: James Horan/Rolling News

Updated Jun 10th 2022, 5:44 PM

BAUSCH+LOMB HAS written to Siptu saying it is available to meet with members to clarify its latest pay proposal in a bid to halt planned industrial action. 

The union will begin work stoppages at the company’s Waterford plant tomorrow after it warned workers are facing a “cost-of-living crisis” due to inflation.

Siptu, which has over 1,000 members at the plant, accused management of “intransigence” over negotiations for a pay rise for staff at what they described as a “highly profitable” multinational company.

In response, Bausch+Lomb warned employees directly ,that the “long-term sustainability” of the factory is in danger if the dispute is not resolved. It said it is “extremely disappointed” that the union did not accept an offer on the table after meeting at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) earlier this week.

This evening, a letter signed by HR director Mark Fitzgerald claims that an “overwhelming” number of staff “want the opportunity” to vote on the deal.

“The overwhelming feedback we are receiving from our employees is that they want the opportunity to vote on a company offer. We also understand that this feedback has been given directly to SIPTU,” it states. 

“The company is available to meet to clarify any items in the company offer. It is incumbent on all of us to come to a resolution on the current pay issue.”

In a response, Siptu said it is willing to engage with management but would only do so through the WRC.

Union organiser Allen Dillon said the WRC would also need to believe that there is “enough optimism to broker a solution” ahead of sitting down for further talks.

The dispute comes as consumer prices hit a 38-year high.

Siptu organises over 1,000 workers employed in the manufacturing plant, which produces contact lenses and other pharmaceutical products as well as providing research and development and surgical support facilities.

Dillon said the workers need a pay increase that “protects their standard of living and purchasing power” in the face of a “cost of living crisis resulting from an inflation rate which is at its highest in a generation”.

He added: “These workers are seeking to reach a reasonable pay agreement that recognises the sacrifices they have made over recent years to ensure the continued success of this plant.

“The campaign of industrial action will begin with the first in a series of two-hour work stoppages on Saturday during which pickets will be placed on entrances to the plant.”

Management told staff this week that if industrial action proceeds, “our plans for growth [may be] impacted negatively”, urging them to accept a deal.

The action comes after the breakdown in talks held at the Workplace Relations Commission on Tuesday, where pay, bonuses, sick pay and the length of the working week were discussed.

The WRC talks took place to avert any industrial action, after Siptu members voted overwhelmingly for strike action last April.

Industrial action, which would include work stoppages, workers not covering certain jobs at the plant and not being available for overtime, was also supported by members in the April ballot.

The vote was held following the rejection of a three-year deal worth 8.25% as recommended by the Labour Court.

Vote in 2014

The dispute is partly linked to pay cuts taken in 2014 to stave off job losses at the company, which saw a wage reduction of 7.5% in basic pay and the elimination of some bonuses. It also meant one hour of work added per week.

The 2014 deal included an improved redundancy package for 200 workers who lost their jobs as part of management’s plan to secure the long-term viability of the company.

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In 2016, Siptu members voted through an improved pay deal which saw salaries increase by 9.5 per cent over a three year period.

In the company’s letter to workers, which many received yesterday, Site Lead Mark Hennessy said Bausch+Lomb is “committed to finding a resolution” but “not at any cost”.

“We must remain competitive and protect and current future employment and the long-term sustainability of the Waterford site,” he said.

“We don’t wish to see the future of Bausch+Lomb and our plans for growth impacted negatively, however we do feel it important to inform you, as a valued member of our team, that industrial action, may do just that.”

Among the company’s plans for the site is an investment worth €90M to expand its facility announced last summer.

In a statement issued to media, a spokesman for the company said the offer to workers was fair, adding they “should be considered favourably in the wider context of the present economy” along with the company’s investment in Waterford.

“Since 2015 together we’ve grown our facility by 600 people and we have some of the most competitive salaries in the South East region comparable in our industry,” he said.

Siptu Sector Organiser, Neil McGowan, said commitments were made by senior management in 2014 that workers would share in the profitability which resulted from improved efficiencies at the plant.

“We have yet to see an offer from the company that lives up to this commitment,” he added.

Additional reporting by Jane Moore.

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