Union split as Debenhams offer to Waterford workers is withdrawn
The liquidators for Debenhams have withdrawn a redundancy offer for the staff in Ireland, including workers at its Waterford store.
KPMG had offered €1 million in additional funds on top of statutory payments to staff laid off when the stores closed.
They withdrew the offer after staff representatives rejected it as “insulting”, although their union, Mandate, had been willing to put it to a ballot.
Following the announcement, workers occupied two of the stores – in Dublin’s Henry Street and Cork’s Patrick Street – and several arrests were made.
Debenhams workers and their supporters were applauded as they marched through Waterford on Saturday. The march was part of a nationwide demonstration to mark 150 days of protest by the workers.
The workers were told that Mandate had negotiated a possible deal which, at that stage, was expected to be voted on. But a difference soon arose between the union’s HQ and shop stewards in Waterford, Dublin, Cork and four other centres where Debenhams has closed eleven stores.
Mandate General Secretary Gerry Light had spoken of a “deal only made possible because of the resilience and determination of our Debenhams members”.
But Mandate Shop Steward, Michelle Grant, told the Waterford protest that the company had made an insulting offer to the union. She said shop stewards in the eleven stores had urged rejection and the offer should not even go to ballot.
Shop stewards from the stores later wrote to Mr Light. They claimed that putting the offer to ballot was a breach of normal procedure because it had not been discussed and approved by the shop stewards
The letter said that under the proposed deal a full-time worker on 37.5-hour contract, with 20 years service, would receive €1923.75. A part time worker on a 12-hour contract with 20 years’ service, would receive €615.60
The shop stewards said the offer fell “far short” of the workers’ demand for two weeks’ pay per year of service plus two weeks’ statutory redundancy.
Mandate said the complex nature of a “very difficult” set of negotiations had resulted in a potential settlement offer.
Úna Dunphy of People before Profit told the Waterford protest she was astonished at the silence and lack of support from the public representatives in Waterford, and called on the Oireachtas members and local councillors to join the campaign for justice for Waterford workers.