Management of Cork-based firm Vita Cortex Industries has said it is extremely disappointed and surprised at last week's rejection by former employees of an ex-gratia payment of around €180,000 to be shared between the 32 former employees.

Staff have been sitting in at the plant since mid-December in pursuit of 2.9 weeks' per year of service redundancy payments, which they claim they were promised by the company.

The statutory entitlement of two weeks' pay per year of service has been paid from the State's Social Insurance Fund.

However, SIPTU has been holding out for the remaining ex-gratia 0.9 of a week for workers, which they say would cost €372,000, double what the shareholders have offered.

In a statement today "Vita Cortex (Ind) Ltd, the Vita Cortex group of companies, its directors and shareholders" reiterated that it never promised the additional 0.9 weeks per year of service.

It said the fact that the company was unable to pay even basic statutory redundancy "clearly proves" that the offer could not have been made in the first instance.

It points out that SIPTU and those they represent must realise that the directors and shareholders of any company have no obligation, "legal or otherwise", to pay redundancy from their personal funds.

Despite being under no legal obligation, it said the shareholders had put significant effort and goodwill into raising funds.

It said the company has never been in a position to pay redundancy and that the offer that was made would have been funded from the directors' and shareholders' personal resources.

Vita Cortex said it sympathises with the workers in these most difficult of circumstances, but says the decision to close the Cork plant was essential to the survival of the group and the remaining 70 jobs.

It said it is pleased the workers received their statutory redundancy, which averaged €26,000. They point out that several workers received in excess of €50,000.

It said that if workers had accepted last week's offer, they would have received €1.1m of the total €1.3m they had claimed.

It said that despite the rejection of their offer, Vita Cortex remains committed to exploring all meaningful efforts to finally resolve the dispute.