Waterford Crystal: KPS seeks fresh start without liabilities

Between 250 and 350 jobs could be saved at Waterford Crystal but there are no guarantees that production will continue in Kilbarry for longer than a year.
New York based KPS Capital Partners has told…

Between 250 and 350 jobs could be saved at Waterford Crystal but there are no guarantees that production will continue in Kilbarry for longer than a year. New York based KPS Capital Partners has told the Irish government and trade unions that it is willing to invest EUR 100 million in risk capital in Waterford Crystal, Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. However, it is only taking a year option on the three factories and would be reconsidering its options depending on what structures it wanted put in place and in the case of Waterford Crystal the level of support from the government. The entire Waterford Crystal workforce was placed on a three-day week effective from 19 January 2009. While no time limit has been put on the three-day week, workers are acutely aware that they will only have jobs for as long as the receiver has money to keep the plant open or a new buyer comes on board. Against that background, production and clerical workers met their union leaders at separate meetings in the city on 17 January 2009 and were told that KPS Capital Partners is only interested in assets and not liabilities such as the workers“ pension schemes. As far as KPS is concerned, the “old” Waterford Crystal no longer exists but it is interested in setting up a new company to manufacture stem wear crystal in the city. To do that it envisages that all existing workers will be let go and receive statutory redundancy. Then between 250 and 350 will be re-employed in the new company, which will continue to be known as Waterford Crystal. In addition to the investment by KPS Capital Partners, it is understood that there would also be government involvement which would include IDA and other supports and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism would also have a role to play. That may involve investment in the Visitor Centre at Kilbarry where annual tourism numbers are 320,000. As angry workers gathered in the Tower Hotel on 17 January 2009 union leaders promised to fight for an inclusive agreement to satisfy those who would get jobs and those who would have to rely on the pension schemes they paid into for 40 years and more. “Nobody will be cut adrift”, said Walter Cullen, regional organiser of UNITE. However, he said they wanted to secure as many jobs as possible and he did not think that long drawn out negotiations would be in anyone“s interests. In addition to KPS Capital Partners, Walter Cullen believes that there also needs to be investment by the government and Bank of America. “If this industry fails to exist then everybody loses out”, he said. He described the mood of the meeting as angry. Workers were shocked that a Receiver had been appointed in the first instance and they were infuriated at the large amounts of money which had been directed out of Waterford Crystal over the years. Jimmy Kelly, UNITE Irish regional secretary, said he wanted to start a process which involved more than the investor. While the union would engage with the potential investor he said there was also a role for the government, Bank of America and the Irish Congress of trade unions. “There is a role for the Government in the plant itself, with future manufacturing in Waterford Crystal and in resolving the pension issue”, he said after the meeting. Asked what specific government investment he had in mind, Jimmy Kelly said his union had a number of ideas, which they did not want to publicly disclose at this time. “We are in discussions behind the scenes in what we believe will become a positive financial support for the future”, he said.