The Taoiseach is scheduled to meet the Mandate trade union this week in a bid to iron out the long-running Debenhams dispute.
Micheál Martin acknowledged the protesting workers are “not being treated fairly”, resolving the situation was complicated, with potentially far-reaching implications for company law, he said
Anyone who said that resolving the dispute was easy was “misrepresenting the situation”, Mr Martin said.
The State had already honoured its commitment to workers by agreeing to pay their statutory redundancy. It was the private sector that was failing to meet its commitments, he said.
"It's a very, very difficult situation," Mr Martin said.
"The workers have not been treated fairly and I will be meeting with Mandate this week to further discuss the issue and see if we can find a way to deal with this."
But Solidarity TD Mick Barry, who raised the issue in the Dáil, said resolving the dispute was "not Mission Impossible".
"It is a damn site easier than standing 222 days on a picket line with winter kicking in and with the threat of the law hanging over your head," he said.
He called on Mr Martin to meet with Debenhams staff and to resolve the dispute promptly to give the protesters “the Christmas they deserve”.
He said the dispute could be resolved one of three ways:
- by instructing liquidator KPMG to pay money owed to the State to the workers instead;
- to prioritise paying workers from the sale of stock in the 11 stores;
- or to increase the amount employers pay in social contributions to create a new fund for redundancies and to make advance payment to former Debenhams workers on this basis.
But the Taoiseach said if the State were to pay off what a company owed to its workers, it "would be a real incentive to rogue employers of the future".
"That would be a completely new precedent that the deputy is suggesting we should set and it would have significant implications that we would need to have examined," he said.
"And let's not pretend that in the future people can’t exploit company law or exploit situations."
Notwithstanding the real hardships that people are going through, he said "it’s not that simple to just change what has been a longstanding precedent without examining a whole range of unintended consequences".
The Taoiseach also congratulated Cork protester Claire O’Leary on the birth of her baby Grace, after Mr Barry pointed out that the "picket line baby" was born after her mother spent seven months protesting.