Ex-Debenhams workers emphatically reject proposals by Labour Court Chairperson

Ex-Debenhams workers emphatically reject proposals by Labour Court Chairperson

Former workers on picket line duty outside the Debenhams Store on Patrick Street, Cork, earlier this year. Picture Dan Linehan

FORMER Debenhams workers have voted against proposals put to them by Labour Court chairperson Kevin Foley with 393 votes against the proposals and 37 in favour.

Some 430 workers cast their votes in total with the proposals being rejected by a margin of 91%.

The proposal document stated that the Government would establish a €3m training, upskilling and business start-up fund, but crucially, prevented the workers from accessing cash from the fund.

The elected shop stewards from Debenhams will now meet to determine the next steps in their campaign for a fair redundancy package and changes to legislation to ensure workers are not treated like this in the future.

Valerie Conlon, Mandate trade union shop steward at the Patrick St store, was not surprised with the overwhelming rejection of the proposals.

“All the shop stewards had called for a no vote. We are pleased with the outcome of today’s vote and the fact the result was so emphatic. The offer really degraded us more so than anything else. It was another kick in the teeth. It was implying that we had no skills. It is no fault of Kevin Foley, it is the Government who are at fault. The talks were going in a completely different direction and they did a complete U-turn."

Ms Conlon revealed that the ex-Debenhams workers will continue with their picket which has already lasted 279 days. She revealed they will continue to negotiate with all stakeholders to find a resolution.

“It has been a long process. Our representatives from Mandate will now write to the Taoiseach outlining that we would be willing to step down and we would be willing to vote yes if they would turn the €3m into cash. We also want to see the Cahill Duffy report implemented as we don’t want this happening to other employees.

“We just want a resolution. We are after coming down a good bit from our initial demands. We are after coming down by around €9m. The €3m being offered at this stage is a big drop to us and we are willing to accept that. We are doing the right thing by negotiating but obviously, the government doesn’t want to negotiate with us,” she added.

Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central, Thomas Gould, has said the vote by ex-Debenhams workers to reject proposals is an indication that they will only accept a fair redundancy package. “The vote is a clear indication that they will only accept a fair redundancy package. The result of the ballot should be a wake-up call to the Government, the liquidators, KPMG, and the company.

“I would implore all parties to sit down with the workers and their trade union, Mandate, and agree a fair redundancy package for these workers,” he added.

In further developments, Debenhams announced yesterday that it will permanently close six branches in England, including the flagship Oxford St shop, with the loss of 320 jobs. It is the latest set of job cuts by Debenhams, which axed 2,500 staff in August and around 1,000 employees in May.

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