Updated 9 minutes ago
BAUSCH + LOMB HAS written to Siptu and said that it is available to meet members to clarify their latest salary proposal in an attempt to stop planned industrial action.
The union will begin work stoppages at the company’s factory in Waterford tomorrow after warning that workers are facing a “cost of living crisis” due to inflation.
Siptu, which has more than 1,000 members at the factory, accused management of “negligence” in negotiating a pay rise for staff on what they described as a “highly profitable” multinational company.
In response, Bausch + Lomb immediately warned employees that the factory’s “long-term sustainability” is in danger if the dispute is not resolved. It said it was “extremely disappointed” that the union did not accept an offer that was on the table after meeting with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) earlier this week.
Tonight, a letter signed by HR director Mark Fitzgerald claims that an “overwhelming” number of employees “want the opportunity” to vote on the deal.
“The overwhelming feedback we get from our employees is that they want the opportunity to vote for a company offer. We also understand that this feedback has been given directly to SIPTU “, it says.
“The company is available to meet to clarify all points in the company’s offer. It is up to all of us to come to a solution in the current salary issue.”
In a reply, Siptu said that it is willing to get involved with the management but would only do so through the WRC.
Federal organizer Allen Dillon said the WRC would also need to believe that there is “sufficient optimism to convey a solution” before sitting down for further talks.
The dispute comes as a consumer prices reached a 38-year high.
Siptu organizes over 1,000 workers in the factory, which produces contact lenses and other pharmaceutical products, as well as providing research and development and surgical support.
Dillon said workers need a pay rise that “protects their standard of living and purchasing power” in the face of a “cost-of-living crisis that results from inflation being the highest in a generation.”
He added: “These workers are trying to reach a reasonable wage agreement that recognizes the sacrifices they have made in recent years to ensure the continued success of this facility.
“The campaign for combat action will begin with the first in a series of two-hour work breaks on Saturday, during which strikes will be placed at the entrances to the factory.”
Management told staff this week that if hostilities continue, “our plans for growth [may be] adversely affected ”, urging them to accept an agreement.
The measure 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.
WRC talks took place to ward off all hostilities, after Siptu members voted overwhelmingly for a strike in April last year.
Combat measures, which would include work stoppages, workers who do not cover certain jobs at the factory and are not available for overtime, were also supported by members in the April vote.
The vote was held after the rejection of a three-year agreement worth 8.25% recommended by the Labor Court.
The dispute is partly linked to wage cuts in 2014 to avert work losses at the company, which received a salary reduction of 7.5% in base salary and elimination of certain bonuses. It also meant one hour of work per week.
The 2014 deal included an improved layoff package for 200 workers who lost their jobs as part of management’s plan to ensure the company’s long-term profitability.
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In 2016, Siptu members voted through an improved wage agreement where wages increased by 9.5 percent over a three-year period.
In the company’s letter to workers, which many received yesterday, site manager Mark Hennessy said Bausch + Lomb is “eager to find a solution” but “not at any cost”.
“We must remain competitive and protect current future employment and the long-term sustainability of the Waterford facility,” he said.
“We do not want to see the future of Bausch + Lomb and our growth plans are negatively impacted, but we believe it is important to inform you, as a valued member of our team, that combat action can do just that.”
Among the company’s plans for the site is an investment worth € 90 million to expand its facility, which was announced last summer.
In a statement to the media, a spokesman for the company said the offer to the workers was fair, adding that they “should be considered positive in the broader context of the current economy” along with the company’s investment in Waterford.
“Since 2015, we have jointly expanded our facility by 600 people and we have some of the most competitive salaries in the southeast region comparable in our industry,” he said.
Siptu sector organizer Neil McGowan said management made commitments in 2014 that workers would benefit from the plant as a result of improved plant efficiency.
“We have not yet seen an offer from the company that lives up to this commitment,” he added.
Additional reporting by Jane Moore.
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