All 2,000 staff directly or indirectly working at the 11 outlets of Debenhams in the Republic, including at least 330 staff at its two Cork outlets, are set to lose their jobs as the troubled department store retailer goes into liquidation.
Although the financial troubles facing the retailer were well known for years, staff were still shocked to learn about the retailer’s move to permanently shut all the stores in the Republic, while continuing to fight to keep open elsewhere, the Mandate trade union said.
The union estimates that 1,500 people work directly for Debenhams, while a further 500 people are employed indirectly either through concessionaires or by supplying other services to the 11 outlets in the Republic.
The retailer employs at least 330 people at its two Cork outlets, on Patrick Street and at at Mahon Point.
Debenhams in recent days had put its five stores in the North and 137 outlets in Britain into administration after facing longstanding financial troubles amid the sharp downturn in retail sales for department stores, in particular, and the growth of online shopping.
However, the Mandate union said it had expected the retailer to talk about other measures to keep the stores open and to seek to cut commercial rents it pays its landlords.
But Debenhams chief executive Stefaan Vansteenkiste said it had no choice but to permanently close the stores in the Republic following the Covid-19 shutdowns.
“We are desperately sorry not to be able to keep the Irish business operating but are faced with no alternative option in the current environment,” Mr Vansteenkiste said.
“The colleagues have been placed on temporary lay-off under the Irish Government’s payment support schemes for employers and we will be working with them to support them through this process,” he said.
Debenhams said its customers in the Republic could continue to shop online with the store.
Mandate general secretary John Douglas said that the news still came “as a massive shock” and warned about further job losses in the retail industry as the Covid-19 economic crisis deepens.
"The company suspended trading due to the Covid-19 pandemic and has confirmed to staff in a letter today ’’that these stores are not expected to reopen’’," Mr Douglas said.
“We will be seeking a meeting with the liquidator when they are appointed and demanding that our members are prioritised throughout the liquidation process so that we can get the best possible deal for them,” he said.
He said: “There is no end in sight to this Covid-19 pandemic and we are certain to see more turbulence across the economy, particularly in retail. Thousands of jobs and on the line and any state intervention must be directed at workers and protecting their living standards.”