Thursday 22 February 2018

Former Waterford Crystal workers win landmark ECJ battle over pension losses

Conor Kane

Up to 1,500 former employees of Waterford Crystal will benefit from a ruling today by the European Court of Justice that the Irish government must protect their pension rights.

The case was taken by 10 named members of the Unite trade union on behalf of all former employees of the company which went into receivership in January of 2009, leaving the pension funds insolvent.

This morning’s decision by the ECJ could cost the government up to €280 million if full pension cover is provided to the former wormers.

After existing pensioners who were already past retirement age were paid, the remaining former workers who lost their jobs when Waterford Crystal shut its doors as well as during previous rounds of redundancies, were left with just 18-28pc pension cover.

The European case was taken by Unite under the 2008 EU Insolvency Directive, with the union arguing that the Irish government was obliged to protect employees after the company and its pension fund were insolvent.

A previous ruling by the European Court of Justice, in favour of English woman Carol Robins who sued the UK government over a similar pension situation, found that 49pc pension protection was insufficient and it was up to the government to improve the cover.

Now, following Thursday morning’s European ruling in the Waterford Crystal case, the issue will go back to the High Court in this country to decide what level of cover the Irish government will have to provide.

That’s likely to be more than 49pc, however, following the earlier ECJ decision in the UK case.

Unite has welcomed the European judgement.

“The Irish government were party to that [UK] case,” Unite regional organiser Walter Cullen said after the ECJ decision, “but, at the time, the Irish government did absolutely nothing so when the company [Waterford Crystal] went into receivership in 2009, there was no pension protection. So Unite took the case to Europe.”

Mr Cullen estimated there could be about 1,500 pensioners affected by the ruling. That includes the 600-plus who were still employed when Waterford Crystal went out of business in 2009, along with hundreds who lost their jobs during cutbacks in 2003 and 2008, and about 450 who were made redundant when the company closed its Dungarvan plant in 2005.

“The government will now have to find the money,” Mr Cullen said. “You can’t have a situation where that many people in the community are left with no pension protection, after contributing so much to the economy for so many years. The economy there [Waterford] has been devastated by the loss of these jobs and other jobs in recent years. You couldn’t condemn those members down there in terms of those pensions.”

The average age of those affected is mid-40s, according to Unite.

After Waterford Crystal went into receivership in 2009, the brand was sold to KPS Capital Partners who set up a new company, WWRD Holdings Ltd. That entity opened a new visitor and manufacturing facility on Waterford’s Mall in 2010 but not on the same scale as the former base on the Cork Road in Waterford.

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