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Monday 15 September 2014

Workers hope for compromise in ‘high stakes’ talks over job cuts

Conor Kane

Published 03/06/2014 | 02:30

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Pictured are Alan Dillon SIPTU, John Curran, Gemma Mackey and Pauline King employees of Bausch & Lomb Picture: Patrick Browne
Pictured are Alan Dillon SIPTU, John Curran, Gemma Mackey and Pauline King employees of Bausch & Lomb Picture: Patrick Browne

REPRESENTATIVES for more than 900 workers facing an uncertain future at a pharmaceutical plant in Waterford are to hold “high stakes” talks aimed at reaching some compromises with management today (Tuesday).

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SIPTU officials representing staff at Bausch & Lomb in Waterford met with local Oireachtas members yesterday to urge them to pressurise the Government to talk to management.

The union has agreed to engage with management following last week's shock announcement that about 200 people at the 1,100-strong contact lens manufacturer in Waterford are to be cut, with remaining staff facing a 20pc pay cut.

Workers were told €20m in savings had to be made just to keep the facility open.

However, officials from SIPTU, who represent more than 900 of the staff, said yesterday they hoped there was room for negotiation.

“What we'll be hoping to achieve is to reduce the number of people affected by the redun

dancy and come up with a range of measures to deal with this cost issue of €20m,” union organiser Alan O'Leary said last night.

“There's a lot of discussions to be had around trying to reach an agreement with the company. There are challenges.”

He said the 20pc pay cuts envisaged by Bausch & Lomb were “unsustainable for workers”, but added: “We're not going to rule anything in or out at the moment. The stakes are pretty high. We don't want to end up having no agreement because the impact of that would be catastrophic for the south-east.”

Bausch & Lomb is the largest private-sector employer in the south-east but, according to management, payroll costs are running 30pc higher in Ireland than at its base in Rochester, New York, and these need to be lowered to keep the Waterford base viable.

Among the politicians who attended yesterday's crisis meeting at the Tower Hotel in Waterford were Oireachtas members from Sinn Fein, Labour and Fine Gael.

SIPTU asked them to go back to the Government and ask for the workers' case to be further impressed on company management.

“We're well aware of the company's position and the challenges they're facing but we also want the Government to be aware of the challenges the workers are going to face,” Mr O'Leary said.

There has been controversy surrounding the timing of the Waterford move, with Independent TD John Halligan – who couldn't attend yesterday's meeting – accusing the Government of asking for the announcement to be delayed until after the local elections.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton confirmed last Thursday that he and his department had been “engaging” with Bausch & Lomb management for “months” in an attempt to save as many jobs as possible.

However, he said publicly that this work was better done behind closed doors.

The manufacturer of contact lenses and other pharmaceutical products was taken over by Canadian giant Valeant Pharmaceuticals last year in a $8.7bn (€6.4bn) deal.

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