Irish Debenhams workers keep up protests in fight for their jobs

By Pete Clifford
June 1, 2020

MANCHESTER, England — “We’re keeping the pressure up,” laid-off Debenhams store worker Jane Crowe told the Militant in a phone interview May 14. She and other workers are continuing to mount regular protests outside 11 of its chain department stores across the Republic of Ireland and at the Irish parliament in Dublin.

Bosses at the U.K.-based company announced its Irish business was going into liquidation April 19. Declaring bankruptcy allows bosses to avoid forking out severance pay to the 2,000 workers they threw out of work.

“We’re calling for government intervention to save jobs,” Crowe said.

She described messages of support the store workers have received from the Unite union at Waterford Crystal in Ireland, from union representatives at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and from rail workers here in Manchester. Meat workers from the Tulip plant in Ashton, Greater Manchester, also sent a solidarity message that says workers there face “a pay freeze and a bigger workload, while being thanked for ‘feeding the nation.’”

While Debenhams pleads poverty it continues to make money online in Ireland. “It’s like they have two sets of books,” Crowe said. “One to say they have no money and another where they continue to make money.”

With backing from Mandate, their union, the workers plan to picket the stores to prevent bosses from removing the remaining stock and taking it to sell at their U.K. outlets.

A worker at a Debenhams store in Cork, Ireland, helped raise 15,000 euros ($16,350) to give to the 69 workers also dismissed by Debenhams at its Liaison Office in Bangladesh. Unlike workers in Ireland, they don’t get unemployment benefits.

“We’re just numbers to Debenhams, whether in Bangladesh or Ireland,” Crowe said.

ITV News reports that Debenhams’ bosses told Bangladesh clothing suppliers they will only pay them 10% of the invoiced value of goods already supplied to the company for sale in the U.K. They have withheld payments of 53 million pounds ($56 million). The clothing manufacturing bosses in Bangladesh blame Debenhams’ refusal to pay up for job cuts they are threatening to impose on garment workers in the industry there.