- 11 May 21
The workers are angry but proud, they told Hot Press. The Gardaí say they were carrying out an order of the High Court.
Members of An Garda Síochána in Waterford broke up a picket line in the early hours of this morning, to assist KPMG staff to remove stock from the city's shuttered Debenhams store.
A video of the event uploaded by Waterford-based trade union activist Michelle Byrne on Facebook shows several Gardaí at the scene physically removing picketers, to clear the path for staff from KPMG, the Debenhams’ appointed liquidators.
Shop steward Michelle Gavin, who was at the scene, said security and KPMG staff arrived at the picket at about midnight. “The Guards probably came about 12, 15 minutes after that," she said.
Gardaí, she added, secured the scene for KPMG staff by blockading the street leading to the shuttered store.
Garda vans arrived shortly afterwards, she said, and members of the force asked picketers to leave. "We said no, we were protesting,” Gavin said, “and we had the right to protest, that we were doing a peaceful protest – and at that point, some of us decided to sit down.
“So, they told us after a period of time, that they would have to remove us, and if we didn’t go ourselves, they would have to lift us up. That's what they proceeded to do."
The Gardaí also told workers to remove their cars. "We were told that, if we didn't move them ourselves, they would have to get them moved," Gavin said.
"We did give them our car keys, and they took the cars out of the way."
The Gardaí answered queries from Hot Press with the following statement about what happened in Waterford: “An Garda Síochána attended a premises in City Square, Waterford, as required in the execution of a High Court Order on the night of the 10th May, 2021.”
Michelle Gavin is not sure if all stock was removed from her former workplace following the stand-off. The workers asked the Gardaí for more information.
"To give them their due,” Gavin said, “they did tell us that it looked like all the cosmetic and electronic stuff was removed."
Gavin said that those products comprised the store’s most valuable stock, adding that the cosmetic products had been pre-packed and was ready for removal.
“When we finished off on 23rd of March last year,” Gavin said, “we were being told that we were on temporary lay-off then, and the staff was asked to box up all the cosmetics and put it in a locked room to keep it safe."
Last night’s incident follows several previous attempts by KPMG staff to remove stock from the British firm’s 11 shuttered stores in the Republic.
In an act of civil disobedience, Waterford picketers occupied their former workplace for four days last October, demanding "enhanced redundancy" payments over their dismissal.
ANGRY AND PROUD
Former Debenhams employees had asked the Government to ban KPMG from removing stock from the shuttered stores, but Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had said that the State did not have the power to impose such a ban.
This morning’s removal of products marks the end of an era for the Waterford picketers, who had managed to prevent that action taking place for several months. Gavin said that the incident left her angry – yet proud.
"I'm angry at the Government,” said Gavin, “that they didn't do something to protect workers, but I'm also proud of all the team, in all of the stores. We put up a good fight.
"We stood up for ourselves, and we put workers' right back on the agenda, and I'm proud of that."
Michelle Gavin said workers have now accepted that they won’t get a fair redundancy package from Debenhams due to lack of Government support, but they are continuing to picket, hoping to prompt a change in legislation to thwart a similar saga occurring in the future.
“For us now, it's the legislation, for the Duffy-Cahill report ¬(to be implemented) – that's what's important,” she added, “and if we achieve that, no other worker might end up like us because nobody should have to go through what we went for the last year."
The Duffy-Cahill report was drafted at the request of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in 2016, following the liquidation of Clerys, the famous department store on O’Connell Street, which led to the unfair dismissal of its employees.
The report recommends the adoption of binding measures to ensure redundancy payments are made to workers in the event of insolvency.
• Main pic shows Debenhams workers outside the store on Henry Street in Dublin.