In a sad day that symbolized Ireland’s economic woes, the furnace at the Waterford Crystal factory was drained yesterday. What was once described as the “heart of the manufacturing process” that would create some of the world most exquisite glass is pumping no more.
In happier economic times, the factory was a buzz of activity, and the furnace its integral part.
The furnace will be empty of molten glass for the first time in more than 20 years. Draining it should save the troubled Waterford Crystal company massive energy bills.
A company source said the switch marked the end of mass production at Waterford Crystal. The furnace was expected to be empty of its 50 tons of molten glass by Friday.
The company had been experiencing problems for a number of years that accelerated rapidly in the last year. At one time, it employed over 3,000 people in Waterford, a county in the south-east of Ireland. Hundreds of workers have lost their jobs in cutback over the years, and about 485 Waterford Crystal workers were made redundant at the end of January.
Waterford Crystal will not totally disappear from the county – although it will be a mere shadow of its former self.
The company’s parent, Waterford Wedgwood, has sold most of the assets to a to U.S investment firm KPS Capital Partners.
There will still be 176 workers remaining at the plant at Waterford, which was the location of a seven-week sit-in by former workers, who were angry that they were losing their jobs. Around 80 of the remaining workers will skilled artisans, in addition to 35 other full-time staff and 50 part-timers.
But even those jobs are not safe: they will be reviewed after six months, and it is possible that some of those could also be lost.