Wednesday, September 16, 2020

By Olivia Kelleher

Former Debenhams workers in Cork are carrying out a 12 hour fast whilst on the picket line today in order to raise funds for Marymount Hospice in the city.

Shop Steward Valerie Conlon said they decided to undertake the fast in order to give back to the people of the city for supporting their 160 day strike action.

“We are fasting from nine this morning until nine this evening for Marymount. We feel that the people of Cork have been so good to us that it is time now that we paid them back.

“We have a collection going on so everyone come down and help us. It is for a good cause.”

The Debenhams workers will mark 161 days on the picket line tomorrow (Thursday) the same length of time as the Vita Cortex workers in Cork were on their sit in.

The 32 workers at Vita Cortex in Ballyphehane, Cork city endured five and a half months of sharing day and night shifts at the factory following its closure in December 2011.

The dispute ended on May 2nd 2012 after union representatives accepted terms for outstanding redundancy pay.

The former Vita Cortex workers say they are totally behind the Irish Debenhams employees as they continue to fight for their entitlements.

“We support the Debenhams Workers in their fight for fair treatment. Workers should not have to go to such lengths to secure a just outcome.

We stand with the Debenhams Workers today as so many people stood with us in our time of struggle. We have not forgotten. We never will. Our love and solidarity to those who have been forced onto the picket lines. Keep it lit.”

Meanwhile, Cork Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould has called on the government to listen to the requests of Debenhams workers.

“These are not outlandish requests. I support the establishment of a Levy Funds on Private Sector employers for such purposes (with contribution rates ranging from 0.66% to 0.35% of labour costs) such as that which exists in Germany and Austria because this will protect workers going forward.

“The members of the government who happily stood with Debenhams workers on the picket line and pledged their support but are silent now, need to come out in support of this call and ensure that proper redundancy is finally given to these workers.

“The toll this dispute has taken on these workers and their families is immeasurable. I commend their bravery and commitment and it is now time for the government to step up and finally give these workers what they are owed.

“These workers are brave and they are determined. They are now involved in the longest running industrial action this state has ever seen and it is time for the government to intervene, put an end to this and give the Debenhams workers what they are entitled to.”

Meanwhile, workers are giving up dozens of hours every week standing outside stores nationwide to prevent stock from being removed onsite.

It is understood that stock across the Irish Debenhams stores nationwide is worth in the region of €20 million.

Workers believe the liquidated stock and cash in the stores should be going in to the Irish redundancy pot.

Instead 2,000 workers in 11 shops are facing in to only receiving statutory redundancy.

When Debenhams shut their Irish branches just before Easter the company said it was “desperately sorry” to have to liquidate its business in this country.

In a statement the company said that they regretted having to close their Irish stores.

“In these unprecedented times, Debenhams is having to make exceptionally difficult decisions.

“Unfortunately, our Irish business has had trading challenges which were exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19.

“In the UK, Debenhams has entered into administration in order to protect its business.

“Regrettably, due to the challenges facing Debenhams Retail (Ireland) Ltd, it is anticipated that an application will be made to appoint a liquidator to the Irish operations.

“As you know Debenhams has already suspended trading in the Republic of Ireland stores and we can confirm that these stores are not expected to reopen.”

Debenhams opened its first outlet in the Republic in the Jervis shopping centre in 1996. Its big expansion in the Republic came in 2006 when it bought the lease for nine Roches Stores outlets nationwide.

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