The Cork Business Association (CBA) has asked the chairman of Debenhams to fund a "fair and just” redundancy package for the hundreds of loyal staff in Ireland who lost their jobs in April following the closure of its 11 stores here.
The business representative group called on the company to reflect on its non-payment of redundancy and said it’s vital that the UK retail giant’s two huge stores in Cork city - on St Patrick’s St and in Mahon Point shopping centre - should be returned to use as soon as possible given their strategic importance to the city’s retail sector.
It follows a meeting yesterday between senior CBA officials and representatives of the former Debenhams workers who are still campaigning for improved redundancy payments.
They have staged protests outside the closed shops and outside banks. They have blocked the removal of stock and they attended the election of the Taoiseach at the National Convention Centre in Dublin last weekend to raise awareness of their plight.
On Wednesday workers' representatives Valerie Conlon and Madeline Whelan met the president of the CBA, Eoin O’Sullivan, and its chief executive, Lawrence Owens, to discuss their ongoing campaign.
Afterwards, the CBA wrote to Debenhams chairman, Mark Gifford, to express its “serious concern” over the closure of the company’s Irish stores, and the impact it’s had on Cork city in particular.
“Whilst your decision to close all stores trading in the Republic of Ireland has national implications, our focus for the purpose of this correspondence relates to the two Cork stores,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“However, our objective is to ensure a fair and equitable resolution that provides a reasonable redundancy settlement that can allow your former employees the opportunity to plan their future.”
He pointed out the century of history and the respected business legacy that Debenhams assumed when it bought the iconic Irish retail brand, Roches Stores, in 2006, and the landmark Roches outlet on St Patrick’s St began trading as Debenhams. The Roche family was hugely respected and widely regarded as great employers who valued their staff.
Mr O’Sullivan said the Debenhams staff have public opinion on their side, and that public opinion will be important for the company in the years ahead.
“We are calling on you to seriously reflect on your decision not to offer your former staff any financial support irrespective of the incredible levels of service that they have contributed to your company,” he said.
He said the manner of how Debenham's exits Ireland, and public opinion of that, will impact whatever future commercial operation it plans here in the future.