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THE MORNING LEAD

Iceland workers at Talbot St store enter fortieth day of occupation

The occupation comes after the sudden closures of Iceland stores around the country.

WORKERS AT ICELAND’S Talbot St. store have entered the fortieth day of their occupation of the premises. The occupation followed the store’s sudden closure, part of a broader winding down of Iceland’s Irish operations over the last few months.

Metron Stores Ltd. initially took over Iceland’s Ireland operations in January of this year. Since then, workers have reported issues with pay, working conditions and once stores started to be closed, with not being offered proper redundancy.

The unionised section of Iceland’s workforce, represented by the Independent Workers’ Union (IWU), has been out on strike on multiple occasions over the last few months.

In May of this year, an examiner was appointed by the High Court to resolve the various issues raised by the company’s creditors, of which the workers are one. The examiner has recommended that Iceland’s Ireland operation be reduced from 26 stores to 10.

Donna Grimes, one of the employees of the Talbot St. store, said the workers intend to continue the occupation until issues around money owed to the workers are resolved.

“We’ve had no contact with the company since the closure. They just don’t seem to care,” she said.

The workers have been occupying the store 24/7, alternating who sleeps there overnight.

Their main contacts have been the court-appointed examiner, who has been tasked with saving as many profit saving stores as possible, and the IWU. 

Most of the stores around the country, such as Talbot St., have been closed.

The feeling among the Talbot St. staff is that enough isn’t being done to address workers’ issues.

“We met with the examiner over Zoom last week to get an update on where things were going. The staff are still hanging on, waiting for the redundancy payments, for the back pay and holiday pay that’s owed to them,” says Grimes.

Everything is just moving far too slowly. Some of the girls have been holding off going for interviews because they’re waiting for the money the company owes them, so everyone is stuck.

The workers will have their individual cases heard by the Workplace Relations Commission starting on 30 August.

Outside of Dublin, problems for workers persist.

In Fermoy, Co Cork, where the local Iceland store closed nearly four weeks ago, workers are still waiting for money owed to them.

Lisa, one of four employees who are still waiting on a redundancy deal, said that the contact they’ve been getting is even less than the workers on Talbot St.

“Our store closed three weeks ago, and since then we’ve heard nothing. We had already not been hearing from the company, but once the store closed, we also stopped hearing from the examiner.”

“He had been in regular contact, but following the closure, there’s been nothing. We’ve tried ringing the office, and when we get through we’re told that he’s in a meeting, or he’s on another call. It’s incredibly frustrating.

IMG_0097 Workers at the Talbot St store Jack Bergin Jack Bergin

Unlike on Talbot St., workers in Fermoy have not been able to occupy their store. 

Liz, another worker at the Fermoy location, said that as soon as the store’s closure was announced, the locks on the store were changed.

“They didn’t even trust the store managers to count the cash when it was brought out, they got an outside crew to deal with it” she said.

Lisa said the company’s conduct is unlike anything she’s seen.

The company completely cut ties with us. It’s obvious they bought just to strip away as much as they could and sink us.

“With the previous owners, if you needed to call them or get in touch in any way, they were always available. With the current owners, nothing,” she said.

“It’s just been incredibly stressful,” said Liz.

Both women said the most egregious example was the destruction of food in the store.

“We had tried to arrange with the company that the food that was to be destroyed be donated to a local Cork homelessness charity, Street Angels,” said Liz. 

“Initially they said that they’d sort it out. I tried to give them the contact number of the local organiser in Fermoy but they said they’d get in touch themselves. Instead, nothing was done and the food was destroyed.”

I couldn’t sleep after all that food was destroyed.

The Iceland workers have said that all they want is the money owed to them. That means redundancy payments for those that are eligible and the back pay and holiday pay that the company has withheld.

In his initial investigation of the company, the examiner found that the company had the necessary liquidity to pay the back pay owed to workers. The refusal to do so, said IWU general secretary Jamie Murphy, is the result of “either mismanagement or intentional refusal.”

Jack Bergin Jack Bergin

Workers in Talbot St. intend to hold a rally on Monday 7 August, to draw support for their continuing occupation.

In Fermoy, workers will meet with representatives of the company on 4 August, though no indication of the purpose of the meeting has been given by Metron Stores Ltd.

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