19 July 2020
By Bryan Smyth
The Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strikers have congratulated the Debenhams workers for their battle for improved redundancy and their campaign to change legislation and prevent this situation from happening again.
Thirty-six years to the day after the Dunnes workers began their three year battle for the right to not handle South African goods, Karen Gearon, shop steward during the strike, said the Debenhams workers are an inspiration to all workers facing injustice in Ireland and abroad:
“What has happened the Debenhams workers is atrocious. Some workers have given decades of service to the company and then when it suits the company just abandons them. But what is inspirational is the fact the workers are trying to change legislation to protect all other workers from this terrible predicament.”
Ms Gearon added:
“When we started our pickets on this day in 1984, people told us we couldn’t win. They said ordinary retail workers didn’t have the power to change legislation. Well 10 of us stuck to our guns and we forced the Irish government to ban all South African goods.
There were only 10 of us, there are 1,000 Debenhams workers. Imagine the changes they can force if they stick together in their trade union.”
Mandate Trade Union has been calling for legislative changes to prevent these situations from occurring since 2013. Brian Forbes, Mandate’s National Coordinator for Campaigns said:
“We’ve seen this type of thing happening again and again and the government keeps kicking cans down the road. We’ve had high profile cases like the Paris Bakery and Clerys, but similar situations occurred in La Senza, HMV, Game and Connolly Shoes, where the company walks away with the assets and the workers are left seeking redundancy payments off the State.”
He added, “The solution isn’t that difficult to understand. Implement the findings of the Duffy/Cahill report and ensure that workers are seen as preferential creditors and prevent companies from transferring assets out of the business. We would also like to see the liquidation process recognise collectively agreed redundancy agreements as part of a workers’ entitlement.