Computer systems are just ‘tip of the iceberg’ for workers at Kerry Group’s Listowel plant as a campaign of industrial action gets underway.

Last Tuesday (September 26), some 290 staff took part in the first of four 24-hour work stoppages at the dairy processing plant in a dispute over pay.

The workers, represented by trade union SIPTU, are demanding a total pay increase of 14% over the next four years or 3.5% per annum.

So far there has been no communication between the sides.

John Cooney, SIPTU organiser, said: “There has been no contact but it’s only the first day. We’re available to meet; they know our position. Every dispute can only be resolved by talking but as it stands the company are not interested”.

Kerry Group was notified of the series of 24-hour stoppages, due to take place every Tuesday at 10:00pm, over the next three weeks.

Workers reject first recommendation

The long-running dispute was considered by the Workplace Relations Commission and Labour Court, which recently recommended that workers receive an annual 2.5% pay hike over the next four years.

Although Kerry Group “reluctantly accepted” the position, it was rejected by the workers.

“The Labour Court recommended 2.5%, which would have been 10% over four years. While we thought it was above industry norms we reluctantly accepted it to resolve the matter – but unfortunately workers and their representatives refused it,” said a Kerry Group spokesman.

As part of the dispute, workers are looking for compensation for new SAP IT systems used to upgrade computer programmes on-site.

Cooney said the new computer systems compounded various ongoing changes that workers have been grappling with in recent years.

“The technology is just one change on top of a lot of change over the last six or seven years with production facilities, a new plant, work going to England, Brexit – a lot is happening.

We were trying to resolve that locally with the company and SAP was just the next change coming down the line. Our members voted by 90% to take strike action; now that is a huge message to any company that there is something wrong.

Kerry Group said the SAP system has been introduced at over 120 other plants in Europe and Asia and “has not formed the basis for pay discussions on any other site”.

“We are certainly not in a position to look at any further increase on the current offer and we are available for discussions at all times,” said the company spokesman.

Critical services are being maintained at the Kerry Group plant in Listowel “without impact on customer services”.