- 30 Sep 20
Where the discussions might lead remains to be seen, but the fact that representatives of the provisional liquidators KPMG have spoken to the occupiers of Debenhams in Waterford is seen as a positive sign by the workers, who are seeking redundancy payments from the UK retail giant
The worker occupiers of Debenhams in Waterford city celebrated a small victory today, after the British company’s provisional liquidators, KPMG, entered the shuttered, city store to negotiate with them.
The four former employees, who are refusing to leave the premises along with a representative from the trade union Unite, reiterated their demands to a KMPG representative (see main pic).
The former Debenhams workers are asking Debenhams to make redundancy payments to 2,000 of its employees in the Republic, who no longer have jobs, using the sales profit from the online store.
The KPMG official told the workers that he would be going back to the company with their demands and will return with an answer in due course.
The occupiers said they were delighted that their act of civil disobedience had yielded some results. They were cautiously optimistic about the potential outcome.
“It was a big moment,” they said.
The occupiers are also asking the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Enterprise to implement the so-called Duffy-Cahill Report as soon as possible.
The report is an expert review of legal protections for workers, with recommendations to protect workers from corporate chicanery.
The coalition Government committed to implementing these recommendations in the Programme for Government.
Speaking to Hot Press, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett said that the Company Law in Ireland is inherently flawed and favours the interests of companies over the workers.
“Liquidation is being used to dump workers and deny them redundancy payments,” he said. “I have little faith in the Government to reform the law because it is deliberately set up to benefit companies over workers.”
Debenhams employees criticised Taoiseach Micheál Martin for what they saw as the fudging of questions about their plight on the floor of the Dáil yesterday morning.
“Micheál Martin did not address the question asked. He did say that he thought the legislation should be reviewed,” one of the occupiers said. “But they are empty words. He is the one who can implement this - he can’t keep talking about it as if it’s some abstract concept or that it’s out of his hands.”
Noreen McCarthy, an ex-Debenhams employee of 15 years, also said that it was shameful that it takes extraordinary actions like entering private property to grab the attention of politicians.
“They have known about this for months,” Noreen said. “They are at the government table and we have not been seeing any benefit of that. Well, we're determined. And we're not just doing this for us; we're doing it for every other worker who will come behind us, facing a similar struggle.”
Gardaí had entered Debenhams store on Monday, asking workers how they had gained entrance to the building. Having made their enquiries, the Gardaí left.
Gardaí had previously detained some former Debenhams workers, and their supporters, during protests in Dublin city.
In April, Debenhams fired nearly 2,000 of its employees in Ireland, via email, stating that the company’s eleven stores in the Republic were “not expected to reopen” – even after the coronavirus crisis subsides.
Employees of Debenhams were made redundant immediately before the start of a bank holiday weekend.
The British company subsequently moved its Irish assets to the UK, in an attempt to avoid having to make redundancy payments due to staff in the Republic.
The occupiers insist that Debenhams online store for Ireland continues to make a profit – out of which the company should make proper redundancy provisions for employees who are now out of work.