“We are over 150 days picketing, if we have to do another 150 days, we will fight on."
That was the defiant message of just one of the former Debenhams workers in Cork as they escalated their fight for what they believe is a fair redundancy package by engaging in a sit-in at Patrick St.
Madeline Whelan hailed her colleagues sitting inside the canteen of Debenhams on Patrick St, as well as their counterparts at Henry St in Dublin, six of whom were arrested by gardaí relating to trespassing.
Ms Whelan, with 30 years of service, described an offer from KPMG — made last week but now withdrawn by the liquidator because of the sit-ins — of one day per year of service on top of their statutory entitlements of two weeks per year as an insult.
“It was a disgrace, not an offer,” she said.
The sit-ins were mounted by the staff in pursuit of what they said would be "a just settlement" of four weeks redundancy pay per year of service.
There was numerous shows of support for the former workers from members of the public. As the protestors took their place inside the canteen, passing pedestrians urged them to keep up the fight.
Cork North Central TD, Mick Barry, said how the workers would be compensated for their years of service would be a “litmus test” for employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He accused Taoiseach Micheál Martin of engaging in cynical photo opportunities by joining the Patrick St protestors in recent weeks, a charge the Taoiseach angrily refuted.
Workers across the country “will have silently cheered” as the sit-in began, Mr Barry said.
The Taoiseach said the KPMG offer last Friday “understandably did not get to ballot”, adding that the workers were “very badly left down”.
However, he insisted the Government is powerless to intervene because of legal constraints, but urged KPMG, the Mandate trade union and the workers to reopen dialogue.
“What we shouldn’t do is pretend to the workers that we can do everything and work out a perfect solution. There are a lot of false dawns painted to the workers by others over the last few weeks that I frankly don’t believe to be helpful,” he said.
More than 1,000 workers lost their jobs when Debenhams Ireland closed its stores in April, including four in Dublin and two in Cork.