‘No way to treat staff’: Anger in Cork at handling of Debenhams closure 

‘No way to treat staff’: Anger in Cork at handling of Debenhams closure 
Pic; Larry Cummins

DEBENHAMS’ management have been urged to find a redundancy package for Cork workers who have been left devastated by the permanent closure of the store.

Workers, many of whom have spent their entire careers in the St Patrick’s St store, have spoken about the heartbreak and anger that the closure has caused.

Political figures across Cork have voiced support for the workers, who found out about the store closures via email last week.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is one of a number of TDs, including Sinn Féin’s Thomas Gould and Mick Barry of the Solidarity Party, who have come out in support of the staff, some of whom have over 50 years service at the Patrick’s St store.

Debenhams staff in Ireland, including those in St Patrick’s St and Mahon Point Shopping Centre, were informed last week that the Irish stores would not be reopening following the Covid-19 pandemic, and that a liquidator would be appointed.

Debenhams has referred its staff in Cork to support from the State and has so far not offered them a redundancy package.

“Debenhams have used the Covid-19 crisis as a useful cover for implementing an agenda they had probably planned anyway — shutting down their Irish operations and throwing 2,000 workers under the bus,” said Mr Barry.

“Whether they decide to campaign for jobs or for a decent redundancy package, the Debenhams workers are campaigning for justice and the people of Cork should support them in whatever way they can,” he added.

Mr Gould echoed these sentiments, saying: “Roches Stores and then Debenhams have been two of the major stores in Cork. Over the years they were always the centrepiece of Cork shopping.

“When you think of the service these staff members have given, it’s terrible, it’s absolutely shocking that they would be treated this way.

“I think Debenhams should reverse the decision. These two outlets seem to be profit-making.

“If Debenhams are 100% confident in what they’re saying, they should open their books and let the unions and the staff look at them.”

Mr Martin said the company appears to have completely disregarded the efforts that its staff in Cork, and across the country, have made to keep it afloat.

He said he will be writing to Debenhams on behalf of the staff.

“Workers in Mahon Point and Patrick’s St have gone above and beyond to try and secure a future for the retailer — from working overtime, accepting time in lieu instead of pay, and agreeing to a range of other work practices to prevent the Irish arm of the company from going under.”

“Many of the workers in Cork have been with the company for decades — going back to the Roches Stores days.

“Their entire working lives have been dedicated to the retail sector in Cork and now they are being left with only the basic state supports, with no recognition from the company. This is no way to treat staff.”

Meanwhile, city councillors discussed the issue at length at this week’s Cork City Council briefing.

Independent councillor Mick Finn described the closure of the stores as a “hammer blow” to Cork.

“It will leave a big gap in the heart of the city,” Mr Finn said of the St Patrick St outlet’s closure.

Independent councillor Kieran McCarthy suggested setting up a post-coronavirus economic committee to look at safeguarding the city centre, but it was too early to know what could be done.

“Debenhams is a prime site. It has a lot of potential, the idea of breaking it into mini department stores needs to be considered,” he said.

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