The Labour TD was accused of being “dismissive”. He said the way Clerys staff were treated was “unacceptable” and said the Government was looking to see if changes to business law could be made, but said he could not “stop” capitalism.
“If there is a way to amend company law, then we will do that, but I don’t think anybody should imagine there is a law that we can introduce next week, in the Dail, that stops capitalism from operating the way it does, for there is no such law,” Mr White told RTÉ.
The remarks drew scorn from Opposition TDs, who said they proved the Government was not taking the Clerys situation seriously.
Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the Government had taken its eye off the ball when bringing in new company regulations.
“The minister’s comments are deeply insensitive and patronising for the former Clerys staff, who are trying to rebuild their lives and pick up the pieces after what has happened to them,” said Mr McGrath.
“Nobody is asking Minister White to stop capitalism, but calling on this Government to give tangible rights to workers caught up in these situations.
“The Government recently brought through a major review of company law, but clearly they left a loophole in that, which has now been exploited in the Clerys situation, and ministers did not pick up on that.”
Sinn Féin senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh called on the Government to support a Sinn Féin bill aimed at strengthening workers’ rights in the Dail.
Economist Tony Foley said the way Clerys staff were treated was “absolutely indefensible”. He cited the lack of notice and the lack of consultation with workers.
Mr White defended the Government’s record, saying it set up the Low Pay Commission and was bringing in legislation on minimum hours contracts, which were recently at the heart of industrial action at Dunnes Stores.
The treatment of Clerys staff and concessionaires has caused widespread protest. They were informed at 5.30pm on a Friday that they were out of a job.
Workers who were not in the store at the time heard the news via the media, or via social-networking sites such as Facebook.
The people behind the Clerys deal have been accused of “sharp practice” by Opposition TDs.
Tanaiste Joan Burton insisted the situation was “despicable”, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny said workers had been treated “insensitively”.
The fact that dismissed workers will only be eligible for statutory redundancy pay has also caused widespread anger.