Union warns of action as Pallas Foods refuses talks

Norma Prendiville


Norma Prendiville

Pallas Foods, Ardagh Road, Newcastle West and below, Siptu official Pat Condon
MANAGEMENT at Pallas Foods in Newcastle West, where 65 redundancies were announced last Friday, are refusing to consult with workers’ representatives, a senior Siptu official claimed this week.

MANAGEMENT at Pallas Foods in Newcastle West, where 65 redundancies were announced last Friday, are refusing to consult with workers’ representatives, a senior Siptu official claimed this week.

“This is yet another example of the company’s disrespectful treatment of its staff,” Siptu’s Pat Condon stated.

And he warned that Siptu members at the plant, where 440 people are currently employed, will be considering what action to take to ensure the company meets its legal obligations to consult with workers or their representatives when such a level of redundancies is being proposed.

“As recently as the last week in 2014, management were reassuring workers that their jobs were secure at this distribution depot. However, last Friday the same management called a meeting of warehouse staff and informed them that it intended to implement 65 redundancies,” Mr Condon explained.

Management also told workers at that meeting that if there insufficient volunteers, then compulsory redundancies would follow, Mr Condon said.

In a statement issued late this Wednesday, a company spokesman said they would not be responding to Siptu.

“Pallas Foods does not recognise trade unions and as such will not liaise with them as is their legal right,” he said. But he stressed that “the company is carrying out to the letter of the law a consultation process where employee representatives have been elected.

“Employees have been asked to send in an “expression of interest” re voluntary redundancy or redeployment by Monday,” he said.

Over the weekend, news of the impending redundancies came as a body-blow to the town of Newcastle West and the wider West Limerick area, where more than 200 jobs have gone in the past 15 months.

But the true extent of job losses may well be higher as dozens of agency workers at the plant on the Ardagh road have not seen their contracts renewed over the past six months or so.

And one former employee warned that, given the record of the company on false assurances, the redundancies would not stop at 65.

A current employee agreed, saying there had been a sense of apprehension at the plant for the past year.

“We fear, ourselves, that over the next year or so, it will be well-scaled down,” he said. And he lambasted politicians, and some sections of the media, for remaining silent on the issue.

“We feel we have been totally let down,” the man said.

The opening of a new distribution centre in Dublin in April/May is the main reason for the layoffs, which are due to begin at the end of this month, according to a company spokesman. He said they would follow the required 30-day consultation period but redeployment would be an option open to some workers.

Pallas Foods, which was bought by the Texas-based Cysco Corporation for a reported €175m in 2009, began building a mulit-million, 40-acre distribution hub near Dublin Airport in early 2013 and this is due to come on stream in April/May. Some 40% of Pallas Foods business is in the Dublin area.

Executive director Dan Geary said last Friday that, while the opening of the new centre would result in the transfer of “significant volume” away from Newcastle West, the Newcastle West centre “remains very important to the growing Pallas Foods business”.

“In addition to being one of our key distribution centres, Newcastle West remains our corporate headquarters. We have recently made a significant investment to base the group’s shared services centre here, which includes the functions of finance, procurement, IT, call-centre and support services,” he said.

The decision to reduce employee numbers in Newcastle West had been a very difficult one for the Geary family, because of its close ties with the town, the company spokesman stressed.

However, he pointed out, it was about securing the business in a very competitive market. And he did not rule out further investment in jobs in Newcastle West in the future.

Political representatives both from the Government and Opposition parties have been remarkably silent on the matter.

“In my view, while we are seeing an upturn in the wider economy, there is a significant downturn in rural Ireland,” the chairman of Newcastle West Municipal District, Cllr Jerome Scanlan (FG) said.

“Rural Ireland is dying. It is extremely sad to see people who have mortgages to pay etc lose their jobs.”

Pallas Foods was established by Tim Geary in the 1980s, and was taken over by Cysco in 2009.

The company now distributes over 8,500 food and non-food items to hotels, canteens, garage shops, colleges, catering companies and others.