Debenhams staff fund is an ‘insult’

Former Debenham’s workers in Tralee have described the Government’s proposed €3 million training fund, aimed at ending their eight month protest, as an insult.

ast April Debenhams announced it was shutting its 11 Irish stores – including its branch in Tralee – with the loss of 2,000 jobs nationwide and 150 in Tralee.

Ever since former staff have maintained 24 hour protests outside all 11 premises demanding ‘fair’ redundancy payments.

The former workers are set to receive statutory redundancy payouts of two weeks of salary per year of service, the bare minimum that liquidators KPMG are legally obliged to pay.

The laid off staff have condemned the mandatory “offer” as an affront to their years of service to the company and are seeking at least four weeks’ pay per service year.

The peaceful protests have seen staff blockading the shops to prevent the removal of stock by agents of the liquidators.

Last month the Government appointed Labour Court Chairman Kevin Foley as a mediator in a bid to end the long running dispute and last week Mr Foley issued his recommendations.

Mr Foley said that a 2016 collective agreement for enhanced redundancy payments at Debenhams – in which laid off staff received an additional two weeks pay per year – no longer had any legal application.

In addition he found that under existing legal frameworks the Revenue and the Department of Social Protection remain Debenhams Irealand’s preferential creditors.

As a solution Mr Foley has proposed that the Government set up a €3 million training upskilling and business start up fund to assist the thousands of former Debenhams workers.

The Labour Court Chairman said that he was satisfied that all parties had approached the negotiations in good faith but noted that the workers had been laid off “in a manner not reflective of the contribution they made to the retailers to whom they gave such long service”.

Recommending the creation of the €3 million fund – due to the “exceptional circumstances” of the situation – Mr Foley acknowledged that the laid off workers would be disappointed as his recommendations “fall short” of what they are seeking.

Mr Foley’s prediction that ex- workers would be disappointed fell short of their actual reaction with many of the protesting workers expressing outright fury and disgust at the proposal.

In Tralee picketing workers said the Government’s offer essentially amounts to nothing and is little more than an insult to the laid off staff.

In a joint statement issued on behalf of all ex-Debenhams staff the workers said Mr Foley’s proposals had “torn up” their demands and wasn’t a fair settlement.

“We are disappointed in that we believed this process was aimed at delivering additional redundancy to the workers through the sale of the stock which remains in the stores.”

Labelling the training fund as insulting the Debenhams Shop Stewards have called for the €3 million to be provided to the workers as additional redundancy payments.

They argue that the training and business start up fund is useless to most of the chain’s former workers who have either already begun retraining or are near retirement age.

The proposals will be put to a secret ballot of workers in the coming days. – News