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Five years since it closed, the fight for Waterford Crystal pensions takes new turn

Unite trade union said today the dispute will go to the Labour Relations Commission – and hopefully be resolved.

Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

IT HAS BEEN five years since the Waterford Crystal factory closed down, but the former workers are continuing to fight for their pensions.

A trade union representing the workers said today it has accepted an invitation to refer the dispute over pensions to the Labour Relations Commission in the hope that a settlement can be reached.

The case has been winding through the courts for years, and one person with knowledge of the situation said it was hoped that the LRC talks will be instead lead to a solution.

“There’s still real hardship for families because of the closure,” Jimmy Kelly of Unite trade union told TheJournal.ie. “The financial [settlement] involved in this would be some alleviation of this”. 

Some 1,500 employees were left without jobs when the plant closed down in 2009.

Last year the European Court of Justice ruled that the Irish State was obliged to step in and pay the pensions of some of the workers who were left with only a small fraction of their pension funds when they were laid off.

It emerged when the factory shut that the pension fund that workers had been paying into was insolvent, and would only be able to cover between 18 and 28% of their pensions, leaving a major shortfall in what workers had expected.

The case was due to be heard before the High Court next January in response to the ECJ decision, but in the interim, it has been referred to the Labour Relations Commission for mediation.

Jimmy Kelly told TheJournal.ie that he believes this mediation will be the best opportunity to solve the dispute since the victory in the European court. 

“We’ve had behind-the-scenes discussions with the government through Tánaiste Joan Burton, and out of those discussions, we’ve agreed that [LRC chair] Kieran Mulvey would assess the situation and see if there’s grounds for a settlement,” said Kelly.

He said the LRC would take a comprehensive look at the case put forward by both sides.

“The government has to take into account that they’ve been told they’re in breach, they’ve now got to do the decent thing in terms of an acceptable settlement”.

“The fact they’re moving in the direction of the LRC means they’re ready to do the decent thing”.

He said that Unite will engage “fully and constructively” with the LRC process.

The case will remain listed for hearing in the High Court in January unless and until a settlement is reached before the LRC, Unite said.

Video: The devastating aftermath of the Waterford Crystal factory closure > 

Column: The future for pensions? Lessons to be learned from high-profile case… 

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