Former employees of Debenhams Ireland have warned that their 175-day dismissal term dispute will escalate if the government fails to take action to resolve it.
The warning comes as they protested at the Fianna Fáil headquarters in Dublin over their demands for better layoff payments following the company’s Irish business failure last April resulting in the loss of around 1,000 jobs.
Additionally, five workers continue their occupation of the Waterford branch for a fourth day.
Workers are calling for government intervention to change the law to increase employee dismissal rights in the event of employer insolvency and staff have a pre-existing collective agreement for improved dismissal conditions.
They ask Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his TDs from Fianna Fáil to condemn what they describe as KPMG’s “heavy handed” approach and “the use of strikes in an attempt to remove shares from Debenhams”.
They also demand that the government waive the € 20 million that the state is owed by Debenhams and allow the value of the stock still in the stores to be used to pay off the workers’ demand for increased redundancy under a collective agreement negotiated in 2016.
Furthermore, they want the government to call KPMG “and instruct them to start negotiations with the intention of reaching a just agreement”.
Workers are calling for the implementation of a 2016 collective agreement that entitles them to four weeks of layoffs per year of service, rather than the statutory minimum of two weeks with a cap of € 600 per week.
However, the liquidators argued that, as Debenhams Ireland is now insolvent, this collective agreement has no legal force.
Marie Dignam, Blanchardstown store manager, warned that the government’s failure to address the dispute could only lead to escalation and called for immediate action.
He noted that the government had taken action to introduce unprecedented support for businesses during the Covid-19 crisis and demanded that the same attention be paid to supporting workers.
The store representative for the Tallaght branch, Carol Quinn, accused Fianna Fáil’s TDs of offering a lot of sympathy while she had no opportunity to support Dáil’s motions which she believed could have resolved the dispute.
Meanwhile, KPMG liquidators wrote to the former staff occupying the Waterford store rejecting suggestions that they would return with an answer to their questions about their requests for more redundancies, following a meeting with a KPMG official yesterday.
This morning, the occupants who dubbed themselves “Deise 5” released a letter sent to them late yesterday night stating: “Joint liquidators refute allegations made by shop occupants that the local KPMG official would return. to the company with requests and would return with an answer in due course. “
The letter continues: “The KPMG official on the spot explicitly told the occupiers that he was not there to negotiate on behalf of the joint liquidators.”
He concluded: “The KPMG official was simply trying to ascertain when the employees could voluntarily leave the store, which would have allowed us to continue the liquidation process.”
People before the TD profit @bridsmithTD raises the issue of Debenhams workers, who have been protesting for 175 days demanding redundancy payments, comparing it with the 175 million euros that the state paid to KPMG to liquidate KPMG | https://t.co/hYSwSfELX9 pic.twitter.com/bDtRIE1k4q
– RTÉ News (@rtenews) 1 October 2020
Solidarity / PBP TD Bríd Smith said there are 11 million euros worth of shares within Debenhams stores which he said was the same rate paid to KPMG to provide advice on the national broadband plan.
Ms Smith said the government is treating workers dishonorably and that the state had “no end to generosity” when it came to paying a company like KPMG for advice.
He said this state is KPMG’s best customer. He said the way to resolve this dispute is for workers to have first preference and for KPMG to be told to negotiate with them.
Minister of Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport Eamon Ryan said he is on the side of every worker in the country and the process of collaborating with trade unions and that the country’s first priority is the country’s social justice .
He said the government has pledged to do everything it can within the law – that the liquidation is proceeding under the supervision of the High Court and that the government cannot interfere during that process.