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Liquidator withdraws negotiated deal after Debenhams workers occupy stores in Dublin and Cork

Workers at Henry Street store were arrested this morning.

Supporters and workers, following their arrest and release, outside Store Street Garda Station in Dublin.
Supporters and workers, following their arrest and release, outside Store Street Garda Station in Dublin.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Sep 8th 2020, 10:40 AM

THE LIQUIDATORS for Debenhams have withdrawn their backing for a deal with workers, following the occupation of two stores this morning and the arrests of some former staff. 

Workers had occupied two stores in Dublin and Cork at 7am in response to an “insulting” redundancy settlement offered last week that would have reportedly seen €1 million in funds offered to former staff at the department store. 

Several workers and protesters in the Dublin Henry Street store were arrested by gardaí, but are now being released from Store Street Garda Station. 

Another store on Patrick Street in Cork was also occupied as part of a dispute that has lasted over 150 days. 

In response to the occupation, the liquidators have withdrawn backing for the agreement. 

“Late last night we indicated to Mandate that we were minded to withdraw support for the indicative settlement put forward to workers last Friday,” said a spokesperson for KPMG, which is running the liquidation of Debenhams. 

“This decision was based on the reactions over the weekend from former employees and the likelihood that even if the proposal was passed by Mandates’ members it would not be accepted by many of them.

“Following the actions of certain people over night it has now become clear that the offer is not acceptable to the former employees and others.

“No further settlement agreements will be negotiated by the liquidators with the former employees. 

“The liquidators are disappointed by these developments as they entered the discussions in good faith,” the spokesperson added. 

Trade union Mandate has said that it is disappointed by the decision from KPMG. 

Gerry Light, Mandate Assistant General Secretary, said: “This occupation will hopefully highlight the plight of the Debenhams workers and the changes needed to address tactical insolvencies.”

“These workers should never have been put in this position in the first place but inaction by successive governments has led to this and will lead to more actions like it unless something is done soon,” he said. 

“Since day one of this dispute Mandate has actively been engaged in finding a satisfactory resolution for all Debenhams workers and is something that we intend to continue to do.”

Arrests

Patrick Street shop steward Valerie Conlon told TheJournal.ie that it was a “disgrace” that people had been arrested. “At the end of the day we’re asking for what we’re entitled to,” she said. 

She said that the workers had planned to occupy the buildings for two days. “It is a peaceful protest so we hope they let us stay for two days, so we’ll see,” she said. 

Workers in Patrick Street have told TheJournal.ie that gardaí have spoken to them, but the occupation is being allowed to continue for now. 

The Debenhams workers have been protesting and campaigning across the country for a number of months for a fair redundancy settlement from their former employer.

Over 1,000 workers lost jobs across the country as a result of the closure of the Irish arm of the UK chain in April.

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

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Some Irish workers had almost 30 years’ service at Debenhams.

Last week, trade union Mandate said that it had negotiated a potential resolution to the Debenhams dispute. Workers were to be balloted this week on the deal, but many have said that the settlement wasn’t enough

Jane Crowe, the Henry Street shop steward, was among those arrested this morning. Earlier, she had had issued a statement in which she expressed her disappointment at the deal. 

“To say that we are disappointed with Micheál Martin is an understatement. His government have had more than two months now to come up with a fair settlement – they need to do much better than this,” she said. 

‘I’ll throw myself in the firing line’

Protesters are being released this morning from Store Street Garda Station. Speaking to reporters this morning, one of those arrested, Sean Powney, said he was taking action for his mother. 

“It’s mostly for people I work with and my mother,” he said. He said she had worked in the store for many years.

“Mainly I’m doing this for her sake, because I can’t have her getting arrested. But I’ll surely throw myself in front of the firing line for her.” 

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for employment and workers’ rights, Louise O’Reilly, called KPMG’s decision to withdraw from the deal “unacceptable”.

“This is entirely unacceptable. A ballot is underway and it is vital that workers are given the space to make up their minds on this issue. KPMG must immediately re-engage with the workers and their representatives,” she said. 

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