FORMER Debenhams workers have vowed to continue their protest until their demands are met.
Speaking to The Echo as the dispute reached the 300-day mark, Valerie Conlon, Mandate trade union shop steward at the Patrick Street store in Cork said her colleagues remain angry with the current situation.
“It is a milestone we really didn’t want to reach. All my colleagues are very angry because they are still out protesting. We will keep the fight going. We are continually being told by the Taoiseach that they can’t do anything by law and they can’t set a precedent. The Government has paid our redundancy but that was a fund set up by our PRSI. We were entitled to that because it is a fund we paid into all our working life. I paid for my own redundancy,” she said.
Ms Conlon said there is no communication ongoing at present between any of the stakeholders and frustration is growing with the continuing silence from the Taoiseach. “There are currently no talks behind the scenes. Communication lines are non-existent. We were hoping a Cork Taoiseach would have been more supportive. He is saying his hands are tied. We will keep on protesting and hope for a breakthrough,” she added.
A 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.
Former workers emphatically voted against these proposals put to them in January by Labour Court chairperson Kevin Foley. Ms Conlon said they just want the Government to convert the €3m into cash for the employees to share.
“All we are asking for is the €3m they have offered for upskilling to be turned into cash. Upskilling isn’t going to pay the mortgage. It will be all over if that is offered. We will be able to get a yes vote for that.
“The whole thing has been a nightmare. We have come this far, we won’t turn back. We are determined to keep going. We will remain united. We remain hopeful for a breakthrough, but we are making history for all the wrong reasons. All we want is common sense to prevail,” she added.
Sinn Fein TD for Cork North Central Thomas Gould has extended his continued support to Debenhams workers.
Mr Gould said: “They have sent a clear message to Debenhams, KPMG and this government. They will not back down until they are given a fair redundancy. It is time that this was offered to them.”
Solidarity TD Mick Barry added that failure to introduce real worker’s rights legislation has impacted other workers such as the 490 workers at Arcadia.
“The workers are not going away. The Government cannot hide from the need both for a realistic offer for these workers and for legislation to protect other workers in future liquidation situations,” he added.