For over 200 days, Mandate Trade Union and now ex-Debenhams workers have been picketing outside the 11 Debenhams locations around Ireland after a 97% vote for industrial action.
This protest came after Debenhams announced the closure of their Irish branches as they entered liquidation and reneged on the original redundancy deal set out in 2016. The agreement reached was an extra 2 weeks pay per year of service on top of the statutory requirement of 2 weeks pay per year of service, but when the stores closed in May, Debenhams offered workers only the standard 2 weeks pay per year of service, citing their lack of assets as the reason they couldn’t follow through with the original arrangement. In response, some of the 1000+ former Debenhams workers affected and their families have been preventing any remaining stock being removed from the now vacant store premises and sold online through their picket, costing the company an estimated €25million+.
There have been several attempts by both Mandate and Debenhams liquidators KPMG to resolve this dispute over the past 5 months, with several politicians joining the workers in their efforts. In September, Mandate announced a new deal was about to be struck involving a €1million payment to be shared between workers on top of their statutory entitlements, half of which was to be financed from the sale of the remaining stock. However, shop stewards refused to accept this offer and so the strikes have continued, with some workers staging temporary sit-ins inside the stores themselves.
Earlier this month, KPMG was granted a High Court injunction preventing any unlawful action and any interference in the removal of stock, with KPMG then promising to notify Mandate at least 2 hours in advance of any plans to deliver packing materials or remove stock. However, they failed to adhere to this on October 15th when representatives entered the Henry Street premises with no warning to the workers. They later apologised for a “logistical error” which caused the lack of communication.
To date, workers have pledged to continue their pickets until an agreement they deem fair is reached. They are calling for the government to intervene and ensure protection for workers as per the Duffy-Cahill Report, but while Taoiseach Micháel Martin has stated that the workers have been “very badly let down”, he has also said that the government cannot legally get involved. What happens next remains to be seen.