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Ex-Debenhams workers to dig in

Wednesday, 9th September, 2020 3:20pm

Former Debenhams employees have called on liquidators KPMG to “put out the white flag” for Christmas Day so they can be with their families.

Speaking from inside the former Debenhams store on St Patrick’s Street where a peaceful sit-in protest is currently still underway, Valerie Conlon told the Cork Independent that former staff are in it for the long run.

“With 153 days passed today (Wednesday), I wouldn't have thought it would take this long, but if that's what it takes, then that's what we're going to do,” said Ms Conlon who was discussing the amount of time that has passed since workers first lost their jobs.

Ms Conlon and seven others entered the former Debenhams building at 6.30am on Tuesday morning and will end their protest peacefully at 1pm this afternoon (Thursday), at which point they will return to their posts at the building’s three entry points.

“We got fed up. We had a little meeting, and we decided to go for it,” said Ms Conlon.

She added: “The gardaí did arrive yesterday (Tuesday) but we have a very good relationship with the guards here in Cork. I told them we were in for a peaceful protest. They were very nice. They took our names and they left.”

Last week, liquidators KPMG tabled an offer of €1 million of additional funds for Irish staff laid off earlier in the year. The offer was withdrawn on Tuesday in light of sit-in protests in Cork and Dublin.

However, Ms Conlon said that the offer was a “slap in the face” and would never have been accepted by staff.

“Everything is a battle. And we're not making things easy for them either, but at the end of the day we would have expected to be treated better than this. They're not even talking to us,” she said.

The former employees are demanding a previously agreed four weeks’ pay per year of service rather than the statutory minimum of two weeks they have been offered.

Ms Conlon is staging her sit-in alongside two former employees from Debenhams in Tralee, one from Mahon Point, three from St Patrick’s Street, and one supporter.

She said that they have access to the canteen and the toilets and that all other doors and windows are sealed.

To pass the time, Ms Conon said the group are playing cards and chatting.

She also revealed that KPMG has made it difficult for food to be brought in and described one instance of waiting seven and a half hours for milk.

“They're fighting us. At 12pm yesterday (Tuesday) one of the girls outside asked could she hand milk into us. It took seven and a half hours for the milk to get through. Then they asked about food, and it took seven and a half hours for that, too,” explained Ms Conlon.

She then called on the Government to step in and show its support for the “ordinary employees on the street”.

“They're saying they can't do anything for us. They can bail out the banks for billions, and give grants to businesses, but when it comes us, it's all talk,” said Ms Conon.

“We want the Government, KPMG, (trade union) Mandate and the shop stewards from each store to get together and start talking,” she concluded.

A statement from KPMG released on Tuesday said that “following the actions of certain people”, the group would be withdrawing its support for the offer of €1 million, and that no further agreements will be negotiated.

The Cork Independent reached out to Debenhams for comment, but no response was received at the time of going to print.

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