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Clerys closure may spark law change

Published 16/06/2015

Supporters and former members of staff at Clerys stage a protest demanding answers after the historic store closed its doors on Friday
Supporters and former members of staff at Clerys stage a protest demanding answers after the historic store closed its doors on Friday

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is considering an overhaul in the law to prevent a repeat of the shock closure of Clerys department store after it was bought by venture capitalists.

Under pressure over the sale and workers left with only statutory redundancy, Mr Kenny said the coalition is looking at the "suitability and efficiency" of the company law.

The Taoiseach stopped short of committing to reforms to prevent a re-run of the Clerys controversy but said junior minister Ged Nash has been asked for a report for cabinet and the issue may be included in a wider revision of corporate legislation.

"I don't want to give commitments that I can't fulfil in respect of changes to legislation, except to agree that in the Ireland of 2015, the method and the insensitivity of the way this was handled is not something I like to see," he said.

As meetings involving liquidator KPMG took place with unions and government, several hundred people protested outside Clerys over the treatment the workers have endured.

They were told on Friday evening the store was closing there and then after Boston company Gordon Brothers agreed to sell up to the Natrium consortium.

Unions have been unable to speak to those behind the buyout.

Siptu's Teresa Hannick said: "The new owners of the store have refused to even recognise that the workers exist."

While workers are being advised on entitlements by Department of Social Protection officials, it is understood they are only going to be paid the minimum two weeks redundancy for every year of service.

But that will be capped, meaning lifelong Clerys staff like John Crowe, who worked there for 40 years, will be left with only basic severance payments.

"No-one deserves to be treated the way I and my colleagues have been," the Siptu shop steward said.

"We gave decades of service to Clerys but were pushed out on the street with not even a thank-you. Workers should not and cannot be allowed to be treated in this manner."

Companies tied to the Natrium consortium have not commented.

KPMG has told the Government all shop floor workers have been laid off with a small number of backroom staff kept on while the liquidation is complete.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin described the closure of the store a s unethical and immoral.

"I think it speaks to a lack of any respect for workers, there is an absence of decency and dignity in how this has been approached and it is symptomatic of a trend gaining momentum, the consistent undermining of workers in certain sectors of the economy," he said.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said the coalition was partly to blame for the Clerys closedown, as it rejected his party's proposed legislation for the protection of employees three years ago.

The protest at Clerys lasted for two hours with union members, the public and politicians joining.

Susie Gaynor-McGowan, who worked in Clerys for 11 years, found out on social media that she had lost her job.

"This is not the 1920s, this is not 1913," she said.

"In the year 2015, workers should not be just thrown out in the manner that we were. The message that the owners should take from this protest is that the Clerys workers will not stop until we are treated fairly."

Businesses running concessions at Clerys said they have been denied stock and cash worth 5 million euro.

The 50 holders, for brands and retailers like Best Menswear , Ecco Shoes , Best of Irish Design, Carpet and rug department Clerys, Benetton & Sisley, The Card Shop, McCabes Health & Beauty, Cinders, John Adam @ Clerys, LS Catering Limited/Ivy Restaurant, Nail Zone and Wink Eye Salon, said 2 million euro from sales was being held in trust by the company running Clerys up until last Friday when liquidators moved in.

Another 3 million euro of stock is behind the locked doors.

They make up 330 of the 460 employees in the department store and claim they had contracts with Clerys management over the payment of money which was due yesterday.

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