FORMER Debenhams workers from Cork will travel to Dublin tomorrow to protest outside the Dáil for a change in the law to better protect employees’ interests in liquidations.
Last year, Cork North Central Socialist TD Mick Barry moved the Companies (Protection of Employees Rights in Liquidations) Bill in the Dáil.
Also known as the “Debenhams Bill”, the legislation was inspired by the bitter 406-day dispute between Debenhams and its former employees, who picketed outside stores on Patrick St in Cork and elsewhere around the country.
The bill proposes two changes to company law that regulates the liquidation process.
Firstly, any collective agreement with workers, such as the four weeks’ pay per year of service that was agreed but not ultimately honoured for Debenhams workers, should be treated as a legal debt and prioritised as such when a liquidator is winding down a company.
Secondly, the bill would move employees to the top of the pecking order when debts are being paid by a liquidator.
The bill passed through the second stage on May 12 last year, when Government introduced an amendment that effectively froze the legislative process for 12 months. As the full year will have passed by tomorrow, Mr Barry said there would now be pressure to quickly progress the bill to the next stage.
“In May 2021, the Government didn’t want to be seen to be shooting the bill down. That would have been bad PR when there’s huge public support and sympathy for the Debenhams workers,” he said.
He said that he has written to the Oireachtas enterprise trade and employment committee asking that it prioritises the bill for the next stage.
Former Debenhams worker Valerie Conlon said the bill “can’t be forgotten about”. She said tomorrow’s protest is not about the Debenhams dispute, but rather to “make sure that it doesn’t happen again”.
“If this law had been in place last year, we would have gotten a full redundancy and we wouldn’t have had to strike for 406 days.
"We’re not happy with what we got, but if we get something in to look after employees in the future, then I feel that we have achieved something,” she said.