Two Groups Vie for Waterford Assets, Workers Protest

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Workers protesting at luxury tableware maker Waterford Wedgwood’s Irish crystal plant said on Sunday they supported one of two U.S. private equity groups vying to buy some of the indebted company’s assets.

“We are encouraged by the continued firm interest by Clarion Capital,” Jimmy Kelly, Irish regional secretary of the Unite union, said in a statement.

“They have lodged their bid and have outlined their plans to us of keeping manufacturing in the city and protecting the immediate livelihood of hundreds of workers and the future prospects for hundreds and thousands more.”

Waterford Wedgwood, which owns Waterford Crystal, British potter Wedgwood, Royal Doulton fine china and German porcelain maker Rosenthal, called in receivers, Deloitte, last month after failing to buy more time from creditors.

David Carson of Deloitte shocked staff at Waterford Wedgwood’s flagship Irish plant in Kilbarry, Co. Waterford on Friday when he halted manufacturing and said 480 people would be laid off despite talks with potential buyers.

Around 200 current and former staff are taking it in turns to hold a sit-in in the plant in protest and 60 of them were preparing on Sunday to sleep a third night in the visitors’ gallery of the factory on mattresses donated by local shops.

U.S.-based Clarion Capital tabled a bid on Saturday night but it was unclear if that bid was just for the crystal plant in Ireland or also included other parts of the group.

Deloitte previously said U.S private equity group KPS Capital Partners had agreed to buy some assets of Waterford Wedgwood.

But Walter Cullen, a trade union official in Waterford, said employees were not in favour of the KPS bid.

“The proposal that KPS had put forward to us in terms of retaining jobs here is now off the table. They are only interested in the brand,” Cullen said.

Waterford Wedgwood has some 8,000 employees worldwide, including 1,900 working in manufacturing and retail in Britain.

About 367 jobs at two UK subsidiaries have already been cut. The company, which last year unsuccessfully sought a loan from the Irish government, has already cut or moved a lot of production to Asia.

It had net debts of nearly 450 million euros ($578.2 million) last October and warned in December that it would not be able to pay interest to bondholders. ($1=.7783 Euro)

(Editing by Rupert Winchester and Steve Orlofsky)