Debenhams strike action attacked by Gardaí

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Four people were arrested after garda police violently removed several workers who were staging a peaceful sit down protest outside a former Debenhams store in Dublin last week.

Former employees and supporters had sought to prevent trucks from liquidators KPMG moving in to remove stock from the premises on Henry Street.

Up to 50 Gardaí had been involved in the action described by Solidarity PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett as “extremely heavy handed and fairly aggressive”.

It is understood that those arrested were later released.

For almost a year, the British chain’s Irish staff have been campaigning for a redundancy deal and for equitable treatment compared to the firm’s staff in Britain.

In April 2020, Debenhams announced it was furloughing its British staff. At the time it said it wouldn’t reopen its Irish stores because Covid-19 had affected the company’s operations, requiring around 1,000 Irish job losses.

Since 26 May 2020, Debenhams’ Irish staff have picketed its stores and engaged in industrial action to prevent the removal of any remaining company assets. They hope to pressure the parent company into providing a fair redundancy package to their staff in Ireland and “decent treatment from a company we have served for years”, according to one former staff member.

Once valued at £2bn, a retraining fund of just €3m is all that’s been put on the table for striking workers. The workers have described this fund as an ‘insult’.

One of the picketers, Suzanne Sherry, said she’d worked for Debenhams since 1996, but last year received a generic email saying her job was “gone” and Debenhams was insolvent.

“All of our belongings are still in our lockers, we have never been given permission to go back in and retrieve them,” she said.

On Thursday last week, police launched an assault against peaceful protesters. Using its public order unit, Gardaí cut off picketers from their supporters at the front entrance. They then used angle grinders to force the picketers’ gate open.

The garda action against the peaceful protest was described as a scene from a “terrorist attack”. A parallel action took place at a store in Tralee, County Kerry.

Shop steward Jane Crowe, who worked in the click-and-collect department at the Henry Street store, was one of the protestors.

Speaking after she was dragged away from the store by Gardaí, she said: “It’s an awful shame the way workers have been treated tonight and the way they have been treated for the past year.”

Ms Crowe said it was not the first time she had been removed from a former store by Gardaí, having occupied a former Blanchardstown store at a previous protest.

“This time was much more forceful. They carried me out of the loading bay and my coat and top came off over my head. They lay me on the ground without my top on,” she said.

As a result of the strike, People Before Profit is bringing a new bill before the Dublin parliament to bring workers “to the front of the queue” for funds owed upon the liquidation of a firm.

“These are ordinary working decent people fighting for their rights and now we have guards here scaring them and backing up a liquidator and a company that has treated these workers poorly,” said Mr Boyd-Barrett.

In the meantime, it is understood the protest at the Henry Street branch will continue.

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