Today, I want to raise the issue of the Debenhams workers. I was alarmed and disappointed with the Taoiseach's response yesterday when these matters were raised. His response was lacklustre and it was not the type of response that I believe is required from Government.
As the Taoiseach will know, the Debenhams workers have been in dispute with their employer for some months now. At the height of the Covid emergency, they were on the picket line and they are on the picket line still, 24-7, standing up for their right to be treated with respect but also fighting a battle that has a much wider significance than just Debenhams. Debenhams has used a tactical liquidation of its Irish stores to walk away from all of its responsibilities to its workers. It is now the intention of Debenhams to take possession of all assets and stock in its Irish stores to funnel the profits through its British operations, at the same time leaving its workers here high and dry.
The Debenhams workers are not the first to be treated in this appalling manner by their employer and because of Government inaction, they will not be the last. The use of tactical liquidation is not new to this State. The Taoiseach will recall that in 2015 staff who had given a lifetime of service to Clerys were unceremoniously dumped by their employers and left high and dry. They did not receive their statutory redundancy lump sum, they never got moneys owned in lieu of notice of redundancy or holiday pay and the State was left to foot the bill. This is the blueprint for what is happening in Debenhams. There needs to be immediate intervention by the State and Government. The Taoiseach will recall that in the case of Clerys we all said at that time that this could never happen again, but it has. Now is the time for immediate and effective action.
What the workers are looking for is not unreasonable, it is necessary. They want the Government to intervene and engage with KPMG, the liquidators appointed by the UK parent company. They want the Government to directly intervene with the parent company and they want Debenhams to honour previous agreements to pay two weeks' redundancy per year of service in addition to the statutory redundancy. They want to be treated with respect. They do not want a situation where Debenhams can simply walk away. It is now urgent that the Government act. It is also urgent that we legislate. I want the Taoiseach to move beyond the words he uttered yesterday, which were equivocal and non-commital. I want to hear a firm commitment from him today that the Government will act immediately to directly support these workers and will also act immediately to legislate.