A dispute that threatened supplies of Guinness to pubs has been settled on terms that include free beer for the workers.
Workers were prepared to strike over Guineness' plans to close its beer packaging plant in Dundalk on the Irish border and transfer the operation to Belfast, with the loss of 140 jobs. Unions resisted the proposal, fearing it was a prelude to other closures in the Irish Republic.
Now, under a deal negotiated through the Irish Labour Relations Commission, the plant will close at the end of this month, with the workers winning a lucrative compensation deal.
The package includes lump sum pay-offs of up to IR£137,000 for long service staff, with those aged between 45 and 50 getting a IR£60,000 golden handshake, plus a pension of IR£17,500 a year after they reach 50.
Guinness will also make a special IR£5,000 contribution to the staff pensioners' club to compensate for the closure of the factory pub in Dundalk, where staff being made redundant could drink their traditional allowance of free beer, worth about 14 bottles a week. "The overall package is so expensive that it should force Guinness management to think long and hard about whether the company could afford any more closures," said one union spokesman.
Diageo is due to complete its merger of Guinness with its UDV spirits arm in three weeks.
Guinness spokesman Pat Barry acknowledged that the deal was generous, but said it reflected "the very favourable way the company has always treated its workers".