Ms Burton said the sudden closure, giving the 460 employees as little as 30 minutes notice in some cases, was “probably one of the worst examples of capitalism at its worst”.
She was speaking in Kilkenny before presenting the Labour Party’s Jim Kemmy Thirst for Justice Award to striking Dunnes Stores workers who are locked in dispute with company owners over low-hours contracts and collective negotiation.
The Tánaiste hailed the workers at Dunnes Stores as an “example” for other workers: “They’ve been fighting for fair play. That’s why the cause of the Dunnes workers is the cause of every worker in Ireland.”
Before her speech, Ms Burton — who worked at Dunnes Stores as a student — said the company had always expected high standards of management and staff.
“To see the current dispute without a resolution, again I think it’s deeply disturbing. Irish people like shops like Dunnes Stores. It’s an Irish company, employing Irish people and it’s extremely disappointing that the management have not come to the table to resolve the issue by discussion and negotiation.
“In the end, that’s the only way trade disputes can be resolved, by discussion and negotiation.”
She said legislation introduced to the Dáil by Minister of State for Enterprise and Jobs Ged Nash is designed to strengthen employees’ collective bargaining rights, among other measures.
Mr Nash will today ask the liquidator of Clerys to contact workers immediately to update them on events.
The Labour TD said it was of concern that neither management nor the liquidator has been in contact with the employees to date, and that he wants representatives of the Mandate and Siptu trade unions to be kept fully informed of what is happening.
Ms Burton said the closure of Clerys after its sale by Gordon Brothers to the Natrium consortium, had left everybody in “shock”.
“I have to say, it’s an absolutely despicable way to treat any set of workers, all the more shocking in that some of the workers involved have been working in the company for 40 years and more, and shown the utmost loyalty throughout all the difficult times when there were difficulties for the shop.”
Her Department of Social Protection will be putting any supports possible in place for the staff losing their jobs at Clerys.
Saturday’s award presentation was made in memory of long-serving Limerick-based left-wing TD Jim Kemmy and was the main event at the Tom Johnson Summer School organised by the Labour Youth Executive on the theme of “the future of social justice”.
The award was received by a group of workers representing the Dunnes staff in dispute, along with union representatives.
Karen Wall of Mandate said employees were “waiting with bated breath” for the new industrial relations legislation, “so we can deal with this type of employer”.
In her address, Joan Burton said economic growth and individual wellbeing need not be at odds with each other, and after “one of our most historic successes” in the marriage referendum, it’s time to turn to raising “the living standards of our people” while in government.