Debenhams staff to block stock removal from stores

Debenhams staff are to block stock from being removed from the chain's stores and warehouses after workers voted overwhelmingly to strike.
Debenhams staff to block stock removal from stores
Valerie Conlon and former staff workers at Debenhams protesting last month outside the store on Maylor Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Debenhams staff are to block stock from being removed from the chain's stores and warehouses after workers voted overwhelmingly to strike.

Some 97% voted in favour of strike action in a postal ballot in which 76% of votes were returned by workers and members of the Mandate trade union.

Valerie Conlon, a shop steward with Debenhams in Cork for 24 years, said that stock across the 11 stores nationwide is valued at between €20m and €25m.

"We have to stop the stock from moving," she said. "Debenhams is trying to remove all the stock and keep the profits to keep the English stores open.

"But the liquidated Irish stock and money from Debbenhams.ie should be going into the Irish pot.

"We have creditors here, we have Revenue and staff to pay."

Workers were informed by email in April that the company's 11 Irish stores are to close.

They want the company to pay two weeks’ redundancy pay per year worked in addition to statutory redundancy.

But it looks like the company's 957 Irish employees may only receive statutory redundancy paid by the Department of Social Protection.

"It's not fair that the State should have to just pay statutory redundancy for 1,000 people on top of all it's Covid-related bills. Debenham's should pay what we're due," Ms Conlon said.

"The directors in England and Ireland don't care about us. The liquidators told TD Mick Barry and Ruth Coppinger that four of the Irish stores were profitable, including Mahon Point in Cork. But they're still being closed."

Ms Conlon said the news has made the Covid-19 lockdown an incredibly stressful time for former Debenhams employees.

"A husband and wife work in one store so they've both lost their jobs, people have mortgages and are trying to put children through college. It's a very worrying time."

Workers have to give seven days notice before blocking the removal of stock so Ms Conlon believes that the blockade can start on Friday when workers will try to stop Debenhams' vehicles from accessing the buildings.

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