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'Deceived by Debenhams': Workers urge government to save their jobs ahead of liquidation hearing

Some 500 people logged onto Zoom this afternoon for an e-rally in support of the Debenhams workers.

008 Debenhams Protest Pictured is Maureen Carroll protesting outside the Henry Street branch of Debenhams today. They are calling for government action to save their jobs a day before a liquidation hearing for Debenhams tomorrow. Source: RollingNews.ie

DEBENHAMS WORKERS STAGED protests in ten locations around the country along with a ‘virtual rally’ today ahead of the Irish branch’s liquidation hearing in the High Court tomorrow. 

Protesters, adhering to social distancing guidelines, gathered outside the shuttered stores calling for government action to save their jobs.

Some 1,500 Debenhams workers in Ireland lost their jobs on the 9 April after management informed them that 11 of their stores in Ireland “are not expected to reopen” as the company was filing for liquidation.

Tomorrow, Debenhams Retail Ireland Limited is due to go to the High Court to apply for the full appointment of liquidators to the company.

The workers, some of whom have over 30 years service, being originally employed under the Roches Stores brand, are calling for partial or full retention of the Irish business.

They say the decision by management to put the company into voluntary liquidation during the covid crisis is “opportunistic”. 

004 Debenhams Protest Gardai on the scene as workers protest outside the Henry Street branch of Debenhams today. Source: RollingNews.ie

018 Debenhams Protest Source: RollingNews.ie

Jane Crowe, the Mandate shop steward for Debenhams in Dublin, argued that the stores are still profitable and could open again after the coronavirus crisis. 

Crowe told TheJournal.ie that stores were “already prepacked for liquidators” before the coronavirus hit. 

“They decided to close down without seeking help from the government, rather than saving some of our jobs.

We believe many of the stores are profitable, as well as the online business. The government is putting billions in to keep people employed because of Covid 19.

“There are also EU funds available to prevent redundancies. We are asking all our political representatives to ask the government to take a stake here and invest to keep the company trading.” 

Last week, Debenhams workers protesting outside the recently closed store on Henry Street were moved on by gardaí due to “concerns over adherence to current government instructions on non-essential journeys”.

Crowe said gardaí in Dublin were more understanding this week and allowed them to protest for 20 minutes while interviews were carried out and photos were taken.

“We were like a big family in the store so it was emotional seeing each other today, even though we couldn’t hug each other,” said Crowe who has worked in the Henry Street store for the past 24 years. 

Gardaí in Cork took the names and addresses of protesters outside the Patrick’s Street store in the city earlier today. 

In a statement, gardaí said a number of individuals were advised that they were in potential breach of regulations designed to protect themselves and others in the community and were asked to disperse.  

“Investigations are now underway in relation to potential breaches of the regulations relating to this incident,” a garda spokesperson said.

An Garda Síochaná had adopted the 4Es approach in relation to policing during the COVID-19 crisis – engage, educate, encourage, and only as a last resort, enforce.

After today’s protests, more than 500 participants logged onto Zoom this afternoon for an e-rally in support of the workers.

Source: Rolling News Video/YouTube

E Rally (1) Pictured is a small number of the hundreds of participants who joined an E Rally in support of the Debenham protest today. Source: RollingNews.ie

‘The canaries in the coal mine’

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith accused Debenhams of using the Covid crisis as a cover for “a smash and grab on workers’ rights”. 

“Many of their workers have given years and years of service and made profits for the company. The company can’t be allowed to walk away from their responsibility,” said Smith. 

Just like the Cleary’s debacle, this shows again that our Government and laws do very little to protect workers’ rights- this has to change, and Debenhams is a line in the sand for all workers.

Smith says workers should not pay the price for this pandemic, adding that it is up to the government to ensure Debenhams shows respect to the workers who she describes as “canaries in the coal mine”. 

Ahead of tomorrow’s hearing, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock says the complete closure of the Debenhams operation in Ireland should not be a foregone conclusion and called for the liquidators and owners to make every effort to salvage as much as is possible from the Irish operation. 

“The liquidators of Debenhams must deal with each of the stores on a case by case basis; singling out those that have been consistently generating positive earnings and making every effort to renegotiate rents.”

The company had operated four stores in Dublin, two in Cork, and others in Galway, Limerick, Newbridge, Tralee and Waterford.

Debenhams in Ireland operates under a separate company, Debenhams Retail (Ireland) Ltd, following an examinership process in the Republic of Ireland in 2016. Under that process, the vast majority of the company’s 1,400 directly employed staff, some 500 concession staff and 300 cosmetic staff were to be retained. 

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Adam Daly

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