Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Crystal Pensions Issue Getting Lost

It is a sad day for Waterford - what has happened to Waterford Crystal. It is one of only three iconic brands that were Irish (the other two being Guinness and Kerrygold) and now it is not Irish anymore. Or at least the crystal that it sells won't be. What a pity that we couldn't protect the brand for Ireland and for Waterford. I sincerely hope that as many jobs as possible can be retained and I commend Mr Nicky Fewer and his colleagues who at least have stepped up to see what they can do to keep some jobs and those all-important tourists here.

However, one issue is still really causing me great concern and that is the pensions. How can it be that those men (and women) have been forgotten about in all of this? They are not part of the KPS deal. It would not be possible for the new non-profit consortium (under Nicky Fewer) to take on that responsibility - and the Government, despite an EU directive, are saying nothing and doing nothing it seems.

Those men and women have worked hard for years, for decades. They have given their lives to Waterford Crystal. They have done whatever was asked of them in terms of productivity, wage cuts, short time or whatever. They were amongst the most skilled and gifted workers that this city has ever seen. Many of them would more rightly be termed artists.

The acclaim that their work has brought to Ireland has been immeasurable. They have often been ambassadors themselves, travelling all over the world with their craft. Like the Ministers garnering an 'unmeasurable return' from their St. Patricks Day touring, the workers of Waterford Crystal have delivered more for Waterford and Ireland than a mere wage. We have built a tourist industry on their reputation. We have delivered shamrock to US presidents in their bowls. The USA has celebrated it's new year with a symbolic sphere crafted by Waterford workers. Who could value that? Who could put a price on what that has meant to us?

And now, when they have worked and paid into their pensions (no-one asking for any freebies here) they have been told there is nothing in the pot and that they should....what? Well what can they do? Get jobs? Re-train? Get a new career? Possible maybe for some younger people but in your 60's? How can this be fair or reasonable, or even do-able?

It is obvious that the powers that be are so out of touch that they cannot understand what it means to have your pension wiped out from under you. They would have been better off to keep the money in a biscuit tin! Have any questions been asked of the trustees of the pension fund? What was their responsibility is all this and who, indeed, are they?

It is imperative, now that the Unions are going back to the talks table, that they bring this issue with them. Those men and women deserve to have this issue addressed. The Government - according to the EU, has responsibilties that it cannot simply ignore - as it seems to be doing now.

Imagine the stress that this must be causing. It is not fair or reasonable. This issue cannot be lost in the desperate scramble to save an hundred or so jobs, important and all as those jobs are. People have rights. People should have dignity. We owe it to those men and women who worked for so long and did everything right, putting substantial money into their pension funds so that they would not be a burden of the state or anyone else. They can't just be abandoned. This needs to be sorted out. And soon.

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