Above: Day 156 on the picket line. Members of the ELT branch, Rachel Kavanagh (far left); Branch Chairman, Ciaran Gallagher; Branch Treasurer, John Whipple and Margaret Gillan (far right), visit striking Mandate members at the Debenhams picket line in Parnell Street, Dublin last week.
Last Thursday, Sept. 10th, members of the Unite ELT Branch and Committee visited the Debenhams store picket line to hand over a letter of support to our comrades. Having made a donation from our branch the previous week, we arranged to follow up by handing over a signed letter of solidarity and support to the inspirational strikers on the Parnell Street goods entrance to the store.
The strikers spirits were high and we were given a warm welcome by the striking Mandate members who at the time were approaching a remarkable 160 days on the picket lines at all Debenhams stores around Ireland.
The determined Debenhams staff are seeking 4 weeks (”2 +2″ ) pay per year worked in their redundancy settlement negotiations with liquidator KPMG. The total amount offered by KPMG on behalf of the retailer was a paltry €1 million, which is nowhere near the €13 million workers say is due to them in a previous collective agreement with management. Workers claim the company, which still has over 120 UK stores in operation and an estimated €95 million in cash reserves, can well afford to keep their word and stick to the collective agreement.
Some of the staff we met had been employed for over 20 years and were resolute in their intentions to maintain the blockade on the various Irish stores countrywide to prevent the company removing the stock, that they estimate to be worth at least €15 million in the Henry Street store alone.
It should be noted that if companies such as Debenhams can get away without having to honour their full redundancy obligations to staff in Ireland the statutory redundancy bill falls in the government’s lap. That means companies like Debenhams can rob their workers of their hard-earned entitlements after years and, in some cases, decades of loyal service and leave the Irish exchequer to pick up the tab. It’s an absolute scandal and you can only admire the courage and steely determination of the strikers to stand up to the bosses and KPMG. Just a couple of days prior to our visit, KPMG had actually withdrawn the derisory €1m. offer from the negotiating table.
The valiant Debenhams strikers have now spent a whopping 163 days on the picket lines which is the longest running strike/picket in the history of the Irish state.
Above: Handing over the letter of support.