Worry grows at Liebherr as staff reject pay offer
WORKERS at the Liebherr crane factory in Killarney say the 2.5pc pay rise the company agreed to pay them wasn't worth the conditions attached.
The union representing 300 workers at the factory has written to the firm officially informing it of the outcome of a ballot by members on Tuesday night that rejected Labour Court recommendations aimed at resolving a four-year pay dispute.
SIPTU members voted to reject the Labour Court recommendations aimed at resolving the issue by a 163-to-107 majority. The union represents about 300 of the plant's 670 workforce.
Liebherr is one of the biggest employers in Kerry and the largest in the manufacturing sector. It has an annual wage bill of €40m but pays out a further €30m for the other services related to its Killarney operations including transport and engineering companies.
Mayor of Killarney Paddy Courtney said there was a lot of concern in the area relating to the dispute.
"Hopefully both sides can find some common ground and renegotiate an agreement with a bit of tweaking on all sides," Mr Courtney said.
SIPTU organiser Marie Kearney said it was now considering the members' decision.
"We are writing to the company as per the result of our ballot and will remain available for direct discussions," she said.
Liebherr management said it was considering the result of the ballot but would not be commenting further.
Yesterday, it was business as usual at the plant but some workers who spoke to the Irish Independent complained that morale was never as low.
One worker and SIPTU member -- who didn't wish to be named -- said there hadn't been any backlash against the union from non-unionised colleagues.
"They're quite happy to let SIPTU do the negotiating because we'll all benefit from the 2.5pc pay rise that was promised to us, but it wasn't enough for what they were looking for in return," he said.
Workers say the company had attached 11 conditions that included a change to their working hours and cuts to premium payments for shift work and overtime.
They also claim it was proposing to hire new entrants on lesser terms. "It has been reported that we're earning €52,000 a year but that includes overtime," said a fitter at the factory.
"We've been good workers as well, always delivered orders on time and we've never been busier than we are now."
The German-owned company has been based in Fossa outside Killarney since the late 1950s and is one of the biggest employers in the county.
In December, management accepted the Labour Court recommendation to pay the increase backdated to May 2012 subject to changes in work practices but warned it would compromise its future operations in Kerry.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton has said the State's industrial relations machinery remains ready to provide support to help resolve the dispute.
Mr Bruton appealed to both sides in the dispute to reflect on what is at stake if it isn't resolved and the potential consequences for Killarney and the broader south-west region.
"I urge all parties to re-engage in discussions," he said. "Liebherr is a good employer and a key facility in the region.
"The company has provided jobs and a good living for a number of generations of people in the region and I hope that the company will maintain and create more jobs for future generations as well."
The union staged a one-day strike at the plant in November in relation to its pay claim.
The matter had been referred to the Labour Court and its recommendations were accepted by management at the company in December.