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Builders refused work from Clerys' new owners due to 'deep unease' over workers' treatment

Lambstongue says if more construction firms followed its lead things ‘might change for the better’.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

A BUILDING FIRM has said that it turned down work offered by the new owners of the iconic Clerys building because they refused to meet with the store’s former staff.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, Lambstongue said that it was approached last year to do work on the Clerys windows.

The company, which conserves, restores or replaces historic timber and steel windows, said that it felt “deeply uneasy” about the way in which the former Clery’s staff had been treated by the store’s new owners.

Lambstongue said that it refused “to get involved unless the workers were granted a meeting”.

Last June, 460 Clerys workers were made redundant without notice when the famous Dublin department store was suddenly shut after being sold.

Many of the staff had worked at the store for decades and its sudden closure drew criticism from both trade unions and the government – which was forced to pick up the tab for workers’ redundancy benefits.

Liquidated

The store’s previous owners, US investment firm Gordon Brothers Group, sold the store to a joint venture called Natrium made up of Irish investment group D2 Private and Cheyne Capital Management in the UK.

The Clerys business had earlier been split into two main companies – one in charge of its operations and a second that oversaw the firm’s assets, including the prime O’Connell St site where the store was housed.

The operational business, OCS Operations, changed hands for a notional €1 and was quickly liquidated, while the property firm, OSC Properties, was sold for €29 million and continued trading.

18/9/2012. Clerys Department Shops The iconic Clerys clock Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Lambstongue said that the Clerys windows “are some of the best examples of post 1916 bronze and steel windows in Ireland, and we would have loved the opportunity to work on this building”.

Meeting with workers

However, it added that it talked to a member of trade union Siptu, which represented the Clerys workers, “who informed us that the workers simply sought a meeting with Natrium”.

“There was no meeting, and we didn’t get the job,” it said.

“It is difficult not to appear a bit po-faced about taking such an action, but perhaps if the majority of construction companies took such a stance … the overall climate might change for the better.”

Ken Meehan, one of Lambstongue’s directors alongside Alexander Downes, told Fora that the company is now planning to meet the former Clerys workers.

“We were taken by surprise by the response from people and from the ex-workers, it has been very encouraging,” he said. “It makes it (turning down the job) feel worthwhile if they feel supported and as if their situation doesn’t go unmarked.

“We will be meeting with the Clerys workers in September, it is being organised through SIPTU. They will come out to our workshop to show support.”

Redevelopment

OSC Properties recently announced plans to redevelop the Clerys building. An application for planning permission submitted to Dublin City Council would see the building redeveloped to include a hotel, offices, bars and shops.

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The plans would see an extra level added to the building, the structure of which, including its feature staircase, would be restored and preserved.

Natrium has previously said that the directors of OCS Operations were the ones who decided to liquidate the company. OSC operations was owned by a company called OCS Investment Holdings, which was in turn owned by Gordon Brothers.

Natrium has also previously said that the liquidators decided to make the employees redundant.

Former Clerys workers have repeatedly called on Natrium to meet with them, recently rallying outside the department store to mark the one-year anniversary of its closure.

The circumstances of the closure of the store are being investigated by the Workplace Relations Commission.

D2 Private, part of the Natrium consortium, had not responded to an immediate request for comment at the time of publication.

This article was updated to include quotes from Ken Meehan of Lambstongue

Written by Paul O’Donoghue and posted on Fora.ie

About the author:

Fora Staff

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