Mandate Trade Union General Secretary Gerry Light has today spoken at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade & Employment in support of the Companies (Protection of Employees’ Rights in Liquidation) Bill 2021. Mr Light called on the government to give recognition to the Debenhams workers in particular for their “determination” and “courage” in fighting for this legislation for more than 406 days.
Mr Light’s full speech is as follows:
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee here today on this very important issue.
My words should be taken as being representative and reflective of the experiences endured by the many thousands of retail workers who have lost their livelihoods over the past number of years and in particular since the start of the Covid pandemic.
For far too long workers have been left totally exposed in a cruel and unfair fashion when the businesses in which they worked collapse many in contrived and pre-ordained circumstances.
The Bill under scrutiny today matters to those who have not only lost their jobs but also for those who might suffer the same fate in the future.
Since early 2020 between Debenhams and Arcadia alone over 1,500 Mandate members were made compulsory redundant leaving the State to pick up the bill whilst the businesses in which they worked conveniently disappeared into the dark and mysterious world of liquidation.
The stark reality is that in both of these businesses collectively negotiated agreements existed which covered the terms of previous redundancy deals, and this is of particular importance given one of the key stated objectives of the Bill under scrutiny.
For a remarkable 406 days Debenhams workers stood on picket lines throughout the country in an effort to vent their frustration and anger at the way they had been treated but they also demanded to their credit a better deal for workers in the future.
Now I don’t know whether many in this room today have ever stood on a picket line for any length of time particularly for 406 days. To do so it takes determination and courage beyond belief and a burning desire to expose the injustice that had been inflicted upon you.
Instead of regularly noting that this dispute was some kind of unprecedented record-breaking achievement, which it was, the time has now come to recognise in a real and tangible way the sacrifice of these abandoned workers and to ensure that their collective efforts were not in vain and that workers in the future will not be left so crudely exposed.
The greatest and most fitting recognition that we can now show is through the speedy passing of the Bill under consideration here today.
That is why along with the ICTU Mandate is unequivocal in its support for the main objectives of the Companies (Protection of Employees’ Rights in Liquidation) Bill 2021.
Furthermore, along with the main requirements contained is this Bill we should also take down at the earliest opportunity the Duffy Cahill report off the shelf where it has been gathering dust for the past seven years and seek to have as many of its recommendations implemented through appropriate changes to employment and company law.
This is something that ICTU and Mandate have been petitioning Minister Damien English to do with greater intensity since the demise of the Debenhams and Arcadia businesses and it’s a campaign that we intend to vigorously pursue to a satisfactory outcome.