Ex-Debenhams and Arcadia workers call for women to unite on International Women’s Day and demand better protections for all workers in Ireland

Sunday 7 March 2021

Ex Debenhams and Arcadia workers have invited all women in Ireland and abroad to join with them as they demand greater protections for staff in female dominated industries.

Both sets of workers (1,500 in total) were made redundant last year but without legislative protections they were not compensated with their agreed redundancy packages of four weeks pay per year of service.

The ex-Debenhams workers will mark 333 days on strike tomorrow (8th March) as they celebrate International Women’s Day. The ex-Debenhams and Arcadia workers have said they don’t believe they would have been in this situation if it were a male dominated industry.

Jane Crowe, ex-Debenhams shop steward, Henry Street, Dublin stated:

“This year on International Women’s Day we, the ex Debenhams workers, are calling on the women of Ireland and around the world to celebrate this momentous day with us.

We will be 333 days fighting for our rights and our hard-fought for collectively agreed redundancy package on this day. Our industry is predominantly made up of female workers and we have been treated very poorly. If what happened to us happened in a predominantly male industry would it have gone on this long?, No, most definitely not. It would have been dealt with favourably and swiftly.”

Ms Crowe explained how women workers in trade unions have made massive changes to the employment rights of all workers.

“The Mna laidre na hEireann have a long history of standing up and fighting for what’s right. It was the Irish Women’s Workers Union who went on strike for three months in 1945 and won the right to annual leave for all workers in Ireland. Dunnes Stores workers took action which ended zero hour contracts in 2019. And now we are fighting to ensure no other workers are treated as we have been.

This is the one thing that we have prided ourselves on during our long campaign. Being Strong Women of Ireland who were raised by strong women, with many of us are raising the next generation of strong women. If you are a woman and still lucky enough to have a job during the pandemic, or are working unpaid in the home raising families, we are inviting you to stand with us on International Women’s Day, whether in person, or on social media. Let our voices be heard and say, ‘No, we will not be treated as second class citizens anymore.’

If you or your workplace are not unionised why not use this day to join a union and get organised in order to protect your rights and the rights of your fellow colleagues in the work place.”

Carol Quinn, ex-Debenhams shop steward, Tallaght, explained the determination of the Debenhams workers:

“On International Women’s Day we need to acknowledge and celebrate the brilliant campaign the Debenhams workers have fought. We have led the fight for all workers who will be laid off as a result of the pandemic, which has hit women workers in retail, hospitality and healthcare hardest.

We have shown the need to change the law to protect workers like us. The whole trade union movement, including the leadership of the ICTU, must publicly acknowledge what we have achieved in pushing for legislative change. We need their support for a final push to convert the €3m training fund proposed by government into cash for the workers in compensation for not being paid their agreed redundancy package. We also need to ensure the fight for new legislation continues so that the government does not fail to act again as it did after the Clerys dispute.”

Christine Hourihan, former Dorothy Perkins (Arcadia) worker from Cork expressed her admiration for the Debenhams workers and the battle they have fought:

“The majority of workers in retail are female and it’s sad to see we still have to fight for what is due to us. My colleagues and myself were so grateful for the support and advice of the Debenhams workers when we were starting our stand to highlight the fact that the government have done nothing to protect retail workers. They have refused to implement changes in the liquidation process to put these women before landlords and other creditors. These women are out there every day and still found the time to help their fellow female retail workers who found themselves in the same situation. If this was a male dominated workforce this would not happen.”

Mandate Trade Union wishes to acknowledge the determination and solidarity shown by the Debenhams workers over the last 333 days. They have ensured that the issue of tactical insolvencies is high on the governments agenda and the entire trade union movement and beyond owe them a debt of gratitude.