Treatment of striking Debenhams staff ‘shabby, shoddy, and unacceptable’

Treatment of striking Debenhams staff ‘shabby, shoddy, and unacceptable’

Former workers on picket line duty outside the Debenhams Store on Patrick Street, Cork, where a number of their colleagues are staging a sit-in. Picture Dan Linehan

“Shabby, shoddy and unacceptable” is how the Taoiseach Micheál Martin has described the treatment of striking Debenhams workers.

The former workers at the retail chain have been protesting since April in a dispute with the firm over redundancy terms after 1,000 workers lost their jobs when the chain went into liquidation.

Yesterday, a number of former workers began staging sit-ins at the company’s stores on Cork’s Patrick Street and at Henry Street in Dublin.

The sit-ins were organised to highlight the workers' demands for four weeks redundancy per year of service and to show opposition to an offer made to the workers last week by the liquidator KPMG.

However, following the commencement of the sit-ins, KPMG rescinded the offer.

Valerie Conlon, Mandate shop steward in Patrick's Street said: "The fact that KPMG withdrew the offer really doesn’t make a difference as it would never have been voted in."

Ms Conlon said she is hoping the Government will step in to help former Debenhams workers secure a fair redundancy package.

"We’re hoping now that the Government will step in and help us.

"There’s a new Government there, they keep saying that they are in support of us and they really haven’t done anything to help us."

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, the Taoiseach described the treatment of striking Debenhams staff as "shabby, shoddy and unacceptable".

He said the offer made last week to workers "paled into relative insignificance" in comparison to what they would have expected.

Mr Martin also said the Government has committed to reviewing company law to render it impossible for companies to create situations of this kind and he said those loopholes have to be closed.

He urged all sides involved in the dispute to get back around the table to hammer out a better deal for former workers.

However, Solidarity TD Mick Barry accused Mr Martin of having sight of last week's "insulting offer" before it was put to the workers.

"You speak of these workers having suffered shoddy treatment," Deputy Barry said.

"Well one of the parties that has treated the workers shoddily now is both yourself, your party and your government, by standing by and allowing such an insulting offer to be put before them in the first place."

Mr Martin denied seeing the offer before it was made to the workers and called for Mr Barry to withdraw the allegation.

Meanwhile, Cork Sinn Fein TD Thomas Gould said he was "not surprised" that some former Debenhams workers had resorted to staging sit-ins at the company’s stores this week saying the KPMG deal that was announced on Friday was "the last straw" for many.

"A lot of people were optimistic until they saw what was in the deal and speaking to workers last Friday and Saturday, there was fierce anger and disappointment and frustration that the deal that was on offer after 150 days was so unfair."I’m not surprised that something like this has happened because they are really upset," he said.

"They were hoping it would be resolved by now and here they are 152 days later.

"They feel abandoned, they feel left out and the offer from KPMG was the final straw for a lot of them," he continued.

Gardaí confirmed yesterday evening that they remained at the scene of the sit-in at Patrick Street.

The sit-in is expected to continue until at least Thursday.

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