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Dublin: 9°C Monday 27 September 2021

Taoiseach informed that Debenhams workers rejected Labour Court proposal by 91%

Workers had been “shocked” and “disappointed” at the proposal for a €3m education and training fund.

 Debenham strikers outside the back entrance to the store in Newbridge County Kildare
Debenham strikers outside the back entrance to the store in Newbridge County Kildare
Image: RollingNews.ie

A UNION HAS WRITTEN to the Taoiseach informing him that Debenhams workers have rejected the Labour Court’s suggested dispute resolution between former workers and the British retail chain.

The proposal document brokered by the Labour Court’s Kevin Foley had suggested setting up a €3 million fund to provide ex-Debenhams workers with training, education, career guidance and business startup supports.

Workers had been “shocked” and “deeply disappointed” with the proposal, and 91% of workers voted to reject it.

Mandate Trade Union’s Gerry Light informed Taoiseach Micheál Martin: “It is not the blind desire of our members to remain on picket lines during a national health emergency in the middle of winter but they are absolutely determined to do so until they achieve what they believe to be just and fair settlement to their dispute.”

The union believes if the Government were to make the €3 millon fund available as a direct cash payment, and commit to new legislation which would protect workers in liquidations, that this could help end the 10-month long dispute.

The Debenhams workers have been protesting and campaigning across the country for 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.

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

 Talks to resolve the dispute had been held at the Labour Court 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.

‘Inadequate, insulting’

Debenhams shop stewards said that workers overwhelmingly rejected these proposals as “an inadequate, and insulting”.

Workers have argued that they are entitled to two weeks’ enhanced redundancy pay in addition to the two weeks statutory redundancy pay.

The stewards said that they will continue to carry out strike action, and call for the prevention of the removal stock by KPMG, until a fair settlement proposal is made.

“We are receiving reports of activity in some of the shops. Clearly an attempt will be made to remove stock after the ballot outcome is known. The government must make it clear that any activity within the shops and any attempt to remove stock will be in breach of the current level 5 restrictions which include the closure of all non-essential retail.”

They called for Mandate to put pressure on the Government.

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Mandate’s Gerry Light wrote to the Taoiseach about why the workers voted to overwhelmingly reject the proposals:

“…The high level of rejection was also driven by utter despair and rejection of the Government’s failure to meaningfully start the process which would allow for the introduction of new legislation that would afford greater protection to workers in the future who are unfortunate enough to find themselves in the same predicament as the ex-Debenhams Irish workforce.

Light said of the workers’ asks: “It is the genuine belief of our members these demands are both reasonable and fair and most importantly they lie within the gift of the Government to concede once there exists a political will to do so.”

Light said the Irish State has made a similar cash fund in the past:

“A case in point is how the Government of the day in similar circumstances facilitated, through the involvement of an external mediator, an ex-gratia payment to workers in the IBRC at the time of its liquidation.”

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