Protesting Debenhams workers occupy store in Waterford in redundancy fight

Ex-Debenhams workers are occupying the store in City Square Shopping Centre, Waterford City
Protesting Debenhams workers occupy store in Waterford in redundancy fight

Ex-Debenhams workers have occupied the Waterford store this morning as they fight for better redundancy terms.

Armed with sleeping bags, hand sanitiser and toothpaste, five former Debenhams workers entered the closed Waterford store at 8am to occupy it until the industrial dispute is fairly resolved.

The former workers say the occupation was in response to liquidator KPMG's "dirty tactics" of recruiting non-unionised staff to remove stock from the picketed stores.

They are now urging KPMG to get back around the negotiating table with workers representatives, Mandate trade union, and government to discuss how the proceeds of the online business could be used to pay for their redundancy package.

Gardaí arrived shortly after the occupation began, warning protesters that they were trespassing and asking them to leave. But the protesters "politely" refused.

"It was a bit unnerving seeing the gardaí. At 58 I've never done anything like this before," said shop steward, Michelle Gavin, an ex-Debenhams worker of 27 years who is currently occupying the store in City Square Shopping Centre, Waterford City.

"We could be here for days or weeks, we don't know."

KPMG has launched an attack on stores this week to try and grab stock so we’re fighting back. 

"This occupation is a peaceful protest but a necessary escalation to make sure we are not left with nothing.

"The hardest part is that we made sacrifices for the company to try to help it survive, but then they just threw us out in the gutter."

Under a 2016 collective agreement, former Debenhams staff are owed two weeks redundancy pay per year of service from the company in addition to their statutory entitlements. But Debenhams refused to pay, claiming insolvency. 

Former Debenhams workers say that more than enough money is tied up in stock across its 11 Irish stores to pay their redundancy. They have picketed the stores for 172 days now, blocking the removal of millions of euro worth of stock until they receive guarantees that they will be paid.

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