Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Jobs axed at Waterford Wedgwood

Over 300 staff at troubled china and crystal maker Waterford Wedgwood have lost their jobs, administrators confirmed today.

A total of 367 workers were made redundant, the majority at the company's site in Barlaston, Staffordshire, Deloitte said.

Angus Martin, joint administrator, said the job losses were out of a total of 1,868 UK employees.

"The business will be continuing to trade as normal, and the administrators are continuing discussions with parties who have expressed an interest in purchasing the business," he said.

"Every effort is being made to avoid further redundancies across the business."

Wedgwood fell into administration last week after lenders refused to give the debt-ridden company more time to find extra funding.

Crystal manufacturing in Waterford can be traced back to 1783 — but the modern Waterford Crystal firm dates from 1947.

By the 1960s, Waterford Crystal had established itself as one of the world’s leading consumer brands. In the 1980s it merged with British pottery firm, Wedgwood to become a dominant player on the ‘prestige goods’ market.

However, growing competition on core markets, exchange rate fluctuations and spiralling production costs led Waterford to gradually reduce its Irish manufacturing capacity. In the early 1980s, Waterford boasted an Irish workforce of more than 3,000.

In 2005, the firm axed their Dungarvan crystal plant with the loss of almost 500 jobs. Some production was consolidated at the Kilbarry plant in Waterford city, and the rest was moved overseas.

Two years later the firm sought a further 490 redundancies after what it blamed difficult trading and currency conditions on their core markets.

Last October, Waterford sought a further 280 redundancies — effectively marking the end of their large scale crystal manufacturing operation in Ireland.

How Waterford's cracks emerged

Waterford Crystal was once the glittering star of Irish business with traditional hand-blown glass and fine lead crystal sold around the world.

Its success defied the recession-hit 1980s, but questionable business plans have seen management turn to cheaper overseas labour, abandoning homegrown skills.

Despite several attempts to reinvent the brand, the demise of its Irish factories has been flagged for at least 10 years.

1987 An internationally successful Waterford Crystal has three plants in the south-east, at its height employing 3,500 staff. Despite strong sales, management push for a takeover of Wedgwood and put 750 workers on redundancy notice.

1988 The company |invests in specialist cutting machines |instead of the traditional hand-blown glass craftsmanship and offer attractive redundancy |packages.

1990 Serious questions are asked about business plans after hundreds of workers take redundancy, only for the company to reinstate 100 experienced glass cutters to meet demand. Later that year the outlook takes a nose dive. Unions and management endure a 14-week dispute over work practices.

1993 Management asks workers to take a 25% pay cut and threatens the first factory closure.

1994 The Butlerstown plant shuts and new production technology |is introduced into the other factories.

1997 The visitor centres expands and designer John Rocha is brought in to revamp the brand.

2000 The business steadies through the late 1990s and the Millennium brings a timely boost with new, popular designs putting it on a strong financial footing.

2002 The success fades and management look to restructure through voluntary redundancies.

2005 Dungarvan closes with the loss of 400 jobs and management again strive to make crystal fashionable as designer Jasper Conran signs on to create new styles.

2007 In February, revered fashion |designer Marc Jacobs designs a new range as the company aims at young buyers.

Just over six months later 490 jobs are axed at Kilbarry on the basis that 500 other posts can be saved. Two hundred redundancies are not taken up but manufacturing moves to Slovenia.

2008 The Irish government rejects a request from the company in May to underwrite an emergency €39m (£30m) bank loan to secure its future. The share price is worth virtually nothing on the Dublin stock exchange. Six months and 30 meetings with potential investors later, a fundraising drive nets just €79m (£54m) and the company moves to end production in Ireland. In December, parent company Waterford Wedgwood de-lists from the London stock exchange amid fears its days are numbered.

A legend in ceramics

Much has changed for Wedgwood since its founder, Josiah Wedgwood, toured his Stoke-on-Trent workshop in the late 1700s, often smashing vessels which failed to meet his high standards.

Since the company was purchased by Waterford Glass Group in 1986, the china firm endured tough times as formal dining trends gave way to more relaxed habits and cheaper competitors.

Six years of losses drove Wedgwood to move all major ceramics production from Barlaston, to the industrial outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia.

In Stoke-on-Trent, where Mr Wedgwood turned the family business into a global pottery enterprise, the founder’s statue still welcomes visitors arriving by train.

Wedgwood bone china tableware graced the tables of many illustrious homes throughout the world, including the dinner service which President Theodore Roosevelt ordered for the White House.

During the 1930s, Wedgwood’s success continued and in order to increase efficiency, the fifth Josiah Wedgwood decided to build a new factory near the village of Barlaston.