Debenhams workers reject Labour Court proposals

By Maurice Garvey

IN ALL the madness of the last year, it is easy to forget the long-suffering plight of former Debenhams workers who have been picketing since they were unceremoniously let go on April 9 via a generic email.

On Wednesday, former Debenhams staff at The Square spent day number 278 on the Tallaght picket, as they awaited the results of a vote from “deeply disappointing” Labour Court proposals to resolve a months-long dispute over redundancy payments.

Debenhams workers Jan 11 1

Staff protesting outside Debenhams at The Square this week

The recommendation in December from Labour Court Chairman Kevin Foley was for €3 million to be provided to workers who lost their jobs as part of a fund for training, education, career guidance and business startups.

It follows engagement between the workers’ trade union Mandate, Debenhams’ liquidators KPMG, and Government creditors including the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

The Labour Court proposal was deemed unacceptable by former Debenhams staff, who on Wednesday, voted to reject the proposal with 393 against and 37 in favour of the proposal.

Carol Quinn, former shop steward in Debenhams Tallaght for 30 years, said the offer of training was already there for unemployed workers.

“To suggest after 30 years of working that I need to upskill is an insult,” said Ms Quinn.

“I am fighting for workers rights so what happened to us won’t happen again. The law needs to change and the government needs to step up. They have ignored what happened to Clery’s workers.”

With regard to the vote results, Ms Quinn said the 91 per cent rejection of the Labour Court proposals was a stark indication of the feeling amongst workers.

“We will definitely continue the pickets, block stock from leaving the store and push for a change in law to get training money put into cash.”

Cllr Sandra Fay (Sol) put forward a Motion at the monthly council meeting on Monday, calling for the immediate implementation of the Duffy/Cahill Report, which was compiled in 2016 in the aftermath of the Clerys dispute.

Cllr Fay read out numerous harrowing testimonies from workers around the country who have struggled immensely over the lack of support they have received since April.

Fay received unanimous support from members for the Motion.

Cllr Madeleine Johansson (PBP) said Debenhams “could have used stock in Irish stores to pay workers instead of continuing to pay KPMG.”

Debenhams workers have shown exemplary “resilience in the face of anxiety”, according to Cllr Cathal King (SF).

Cllr Kieran Mahon (Sol), who has spent many a day and week on the picket line in Tallaght, said the British company, which closed all 124 UK stores and went into liquidation last December, loaded debt onto the Irish part of the organisation “which was operational.”

“They made €30m in online sales in Ireland in 2019,” said Cllr Mahon.

He blasted a “huge amount of financial trickery” that has taken place to date, and said the Duffy-Cahill report needs to be implemented to “allow the State to pursue assets.”

Following the vote on Wednesday, Mandate said: “The elected shop stewards from Debenhams will now meet to determine the next steps in their campaign for a fair redundancy package and changes to legislation to ensure workers are not treated like this in the future.”

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