After heroically standing on picket lines, outside their respective stores across the country, standing up for their rights, following the news that Debenhams workers would lose their jobs, 406 days later, these former workers have accepted a 3 million euro Government plan.
According to TheJournal.ie, ‘former Debenhams workers have voted to lift their pickets outside stores across the country after 406 days. The vote was carried today by 319 votes in favour and 102 against proposals that would seek the workforce take up a multi-million euro retraining plan.' The document endorsed by the ex-Debenhams employees creates the establishment by Government of a 3 million training, upskilling and business start-up fund.
Following the first rejected ballot on Wednesday 13 January 2021, further clarification was sought by Mandate members on a range of issues contained within the proposal including how the fund would be managed and how workers would access the measures. TheJournal.ie elaborated further by saying that according to Mandate General Secretary, Gerry Light, he ‘paid tribute to the campaigners who placed pickets outside the former Debenhams shops'. Today’s ballot outcome is testament to the strong will and resilience of our striking members who refused to accept defeat in the face of adversity.
These brave trade unionists maintained their legal pickets no matter the weather and in the midst of a global pandemic they socially distanced on picket lines whilst facing down the government and KPMG at every opportunity. We acknowledge this is not a perfect deal as it falls short of our members original demands, however it represents the best achievable negotiated settlement under very difficult circumstances’. Further, ‘Light explained that the union and the workers would fight to see legislation introduced to ensure that such disputes don’t arise in the future.
Another key objective for Mandate emanating from this dispute is to vigorously pursue legislative changes to ensure circumstances similar to this dispute are prevented from ever happening again. We must, without any further delay, have these legal protections urgently delivered by Government in order to protect workers into the future’.
Meanwhile, this vote outcome was welcomed by former shop steward, Jane Crowe. ‘We’ve voted to end the protest and we will accept the deal to be retrained. We’re ending the pickets but we’re going to shift the fight now towards the Government to get the Debenhams Bill voted on. That will prioritise workers’ rights in these sorts of circumstances.'
Government have voted to postpone a vote on that but we are going to be in constant contact to make sure they look at it. Our pickets are finished but we are going into a new chapter now’. This 3 million Government deal that has been accepted by former Debenhams workers, has been welcomed by Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar and Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris.
In summary, this outcome for the former Debenhams workers is mostly unfortunate as they had to compromise in the end for a raw deal which does not grant these workers, their entitlement to a fair redundancy which is clearly deserved for these workers. However, after 406 days on strike, it appeared that options for these workers were becoming increasingly limited as liquidators continued to take stock out of the respective Debenhams stores across the country, shamefully protected by An Garda Siochana and ignored by Government.
These past 13 months have shown the power that ordinary working people can have as they stood up for their worker’s rights in the face of adversity from liquidators, KPMG and An Garda Siochana, who provided protection for these liquidators, while treating the ordinary Debenhams workers who were peacefully picketing, with utter contempt. Meanwhile, the Government ended up drawing up a mediocre 3 million retraining plan.
Yet, apart from this, the Government turned a blind eye for the most part, to the Debenhams workers, as they have done in the past to former Vita Cortex workers and Clerys workers. Governments promised that a repeat of the situation with Vita Cortex and Clerys would not happen again and worker’s rights would be protected.
However, the Government failed to protect these workers who faced adversity from the liquidators of KPMG and An Garda Siochana. While the Government stated that the treatment of the Debenhams workers was disgraceful, they had a role to protect these workers and they failed to deliver on their duty to protect these workers.
Taoiseach, Micheál Martin regularly stated that they were trying to do everything for the workers within the law. The latter suggests utter ignorance from Government, to the plight of the Debenhams workers, as An Taoiseach constantly stated that they were doing everything they could to protect these workers within the law, but they, as legislators, had the chance to change the law to protect worker’s rights and bring forward legislation.
Yet, consecutive Governments have had, since 2015 to implement the recommendations of the Duffy – Cahill Report and change the law to protect worker’s rights. Despite this, recently, the Government parties voted unanimously to defer the Debenhams brought forward by Solidarity TD, Mick Barry, for another year, which would protect worker’s rights, in a similar way to which countries such as Greece and Portugal protect these rights.
Despite the common misconception that Government is not responsible for this dispute, it is responsible for this dispute due to its failure to insert protections for workers to avoid a repeat of situations such as the closure of Vita Cortex in Cork in December 2011.
It must immediately implement the recommendations of the Duffy – Cahill Report, pass the Debenhams Bill, abolish the Industrial Relations Act 1990, and replace it with an Act that protects workers rights. It must also insert, the legal need for employers to recognise trade unions and in all workplace disputes, have a duty to deal with trade unions.
It remains to be seen what action the Government takes next, to prevent future job losses, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, as it is likely that more retail jobs will be lost. Whatever takes place, the Government cannot repeat its mistakes of the past 13 months, in ignoring the plight of the Debenhams workers and ignoring the recommendations of the Duffy – Cahill Report since 2015. We cannot have another repeat of Vita Cortex, Clerys and Debenhams ever again.