Former Debenhams workers 'will continue fight for new laws' as they end 406-day dispute

Former Debenhams workers 'will continue fight for new laws' as they end 406-day dispute

The former workers, who maintained a 406-day campaign through the pandemic for a just redundancy settlement, said the time had to come for them to return to some sort of normality. Photo: Denis Minihane

Former Debenhams staff ended their marathon dispute today vowing to continue fighting for new laws to protect workers caught up in liquidations.

The former workers, who maintained a 406-day campaign through the pandemic for a just redundancy settlement, said the time had to come for them to return to some sort of normality.

It follows their 319 to 102 vote on Thursday to accept the settlement offer of a €3m training and upskilling fund.

In a statement issued by Debenhams shop stewards and picket line activists, they said the vote to accept the settlement doesn’t mean that the vast majority of the former workers view it as coming anywhere close to the honouring of the four weeks’ pay per year’s service redundancy - two weeks statutory plus two weeks enhanced - that they agreed with their former employer.

Claire O'Leary, one of the ex-Debenhams workers, pictured with her daughter Grace, who was born in November, outside the former Debenhams store on St. Patrick's St., Cork, at the end of their 406 day struggle for justice.
Claire O'Leary, one of the ex-Debenhams workers, pictured with her daughter Grace, who was born in November, outside the former Debenhams store on St. Patrick's St., Cork, at the end of their 406 day struggle for justice.

“Rather it is a reflection that the shop stewards and workers, in the majority, concluded that they had fought as hard as was possible and the moment was right to bring the industrial fight to a conclusion,” they said.

They acknowledged the support from "working-class people" and from "the left", including individual trade union activists and some public representatives but they criticised their trade union Mandate and ICTU for not doing more. 

They also slammed successive governments for failing to legislate to protect workers after the Vita Cortex factory occupation in Cork in 2011, or after the Clerys redundancies in 2016, which gave rise to the still unimplemented recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report.

“Clearly the Industrial Relations Act needs to be challenged but we have learned that the best way to do so is to defy it. A willingness to do so across the wider trade union movement, by joining and building our pickets, would have assisted us greatly.

Madeline Whelan, one of the ex-Debenhams workers, outside the former Debenhams store on St Patrick's St, Cork, at the end of their 406 day struggle for justice. The Debenhams shop stewards acknowledged the support from "working-class people" and from "the left", including individual trade union activists and some public representatives. Photo: Denis Minihane
Madeline Whelan, one of the ex-Debenhams workers, outside the former Debenhams store on St Patrick's St, Cork, at the end of their 406 day struggle for justice. The Debenhams shop stewards acknowledged the support from "working-class people" and from "the left", including individual trade union activists and some public representatives. Photo: Denis Minihane

“This is historically how workers achieved their rights in the first instance and it has been forgotten at the top."

They said they will continue campaigning for legislative change to strengthen the legal position of workers in liquidation situations.

"You can be sure that the Debenhams workers will put their stamp on this debate in the coming year," they said.

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