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Former Debenhams workers to end their industrial action after 406 days

Former Debenhams workers voted 319 votes to 102 in favour of accepting the €3m Government plan.

Image: Sam Boal

Updated May 20th 2021, 3:00 PM

FORMER DEBENHAMS WORKERS have voted to lift their pickets outside stores across the country after 406 days.

The vote was carried today by 319 votes in favour and 102 against proposals that would seek the workforce take up a multi-million euro retraining plan.

The document endorsed by the ex-Debenhams employees creates the establishment by Government of a €3 million training, upskilling and business start-up fund.

Following the first rejected ballot on Wednesday 13 January 2021 further clarification was sought by Mandate members on a range of issues contained within the proposal including how the fund would be managed and how workers would access the measures.

Gerry Light, Mandate General Secretary, paid tribute to the campaigners who placed pickets outside the former Debenham shops.

“Today’s ballot outcome is testament to the strong will and resilience of our striking members who refused to accept defeat in the face of adversity.  

“These brave trade unionists maintained their legal pickets no matter the weather and in the midst of a global pandemic they socially distanced on picket lines whilst facing down the government and KPMG at every opportunity.

“We acknowledge this is not a perfect deal as it falls short of our members original demands, however, it represents the best achievable negotiated settlement under very difficult circumstances,” he said.

Light explained that the union and the workers would fight to see legislation introduced to ensure that such disputes don’t arise in the future.

“Collectively, we have finally reached a satisfactory outcome but we must continue to strive to ensure that the fund delivers the maximum benefit possible for the ex-Debenhams workers.

“Another key objective for Mandate emanating from this dispute is to vigorously pursue legislative changes to ensure circumstances similar to this dispute are prevented from ever happening again.

“We must, without any further delay, have these legal protections urgently delivered by Government in order to protect workers into the future.

“Delivery on this key objective will not be made easy but we are fully committed to making this happen to honour the legacy of our ex-Debenhams members and their incredible trade union fighting spirit,” he added.

Former shop steward Jane Crowe welcomed the vote and said that she and the other ex-workers would continue their fight to have legislation introduced.

“We’ve voted to end the protest and we will accept the deal to be retrained.

“We’re ending the pickets but we’re going to shift the fight now towards the Government to get The Debenhams Bill voted on. That will prioritise workers’ rights in these sorts of circumstances.

“Government have voted to postpone a vote on that but we are going to be in constant contact to make sure they look at it.

“Our pickets are finished but we are going into a new chapter now. We start with retraining. Retail has been decimated, there are no jobs in retail now.

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“We would have been on a higher rate of pay and if we went into retail now we would be offered the minimum pay.

“It would really cause financial problems for us, the minimum wage would not pay for our mortgages so we have to look for work in other sectors,” she said.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science have welcomed the decision by the former Debenhams workers to accept the fund.

The Tánaiste welcomed the Solas managed scheme and said that the way of shopping has been changing which has been accelerated by the pandemic.

“However, I still believe there is a future for the ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping experience even if there is less of it than in the past.   

“We need to ensure that retail workers have access to education and training options so they have the opportunity to gain new employment. 

“This €3m will provide workers with that assistance and I’m pleased it has been accepted.  The Government will be making some changes to employment law on foot of the dispute to ensure that staff receive proper notice of redundancy and clear information about what their entitlements are,” he said.

While Minister Harris has said the Solas scheme offers “some light at the end of a difficult road for these workers.”

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