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Friday 30 September 2016

'They robbed us of our jobs and it was all down to greed' - Ex-Clerys worker 6 months after demise of iconic department store

Sarah-Jane Murphy

Published 25/12/2015 | 18:00

The High Court yesterday directed the joint liquidators of OCS Operations Ltd - former operators of Clerys - to pay out the money
The High Court yesterday directed the joint liquidators of OCS Operations Ltd - former operators of Clerys - to pay out the money

It's now six months since one of Dublin's most-loved department stores abruptly closed its doors, rendering 130 shell-shocked people unemployed.

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The Clerys workers gathered outside their former place of work to demonstrate, exactly half a year since they received the life changing news.

Much time has passed since that balmy June day, and while the ex-employees may have received their statutory redundancy they are far from satisfied with the manner in which they were treated.

Back on a chilly O'Connell Street a chant rang out into the polar-like, December air.

“What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now” sang the former Clerys employees.

The protesters were cheered by the fact that several members of the public paused to offer words of support to them.

The lively and festive demonstration was led by Gerry Markey (53), who worked in Clerys bedding department for 34 years.

“We are here today to get a meeting with the new owners because what they did to us was disrespectful.

Ruins of Clery's stores and the Imperial Hotel, Dublin, destroyed in the Easter Rising. Photo: Getty Images
Ruins of Clery's stores and the Imperial Hotel, Dublin, destroyed in the Easter Rising. Photo: Getty Images

"They robbed us of our jobs and it was all down to greed.

“We never met them, we waited and waited for 26 weeks but it never happened.

“The windows of Clerys were decorated recently for Christmas. The words on them read – 'May your days be merry and bright' – It's a very disrespectful message to the workers that don't have jobs this Christmas,” he told Independent.ie.

Gerry explained that the number one priority for the Clerys workers is to have the law changed.

"We are asking the Government to change Irish law by introducing a law that would force business owners to hold discussions with staff in a takeover situation," he said.

If introduced, the 'Clerys clause' would mean that company directors who fail to give employees a mandatory 30-consultation could be barred from holding directorships in other businesses.

“I was on annual leave, in Co. Tipperary when the news came through. I was so shocked.

"We were aware the owners wanted to sell up but we were told that it would be sold as a going concern and our jobs would be safe.

“I loved working in Clery's. Sometimes I might stay on for 40 minutes or an hour if I was helping a customer to select a bed. I genuinely didn't mind as I enjoyed my job so much,” Gerry said.

Clad in a Santa costume, the Finglas man held aloft an enlarged P45 form in his hands and read aloud a 'Naughty and Nice list' much to the amusement of the protesters and the public alike.

Those on the ‘Naughty list’ included new owners Natrium and the Irish Government.

However the ‘Nice list’ featured the Dublin City Councillors, the Irish public and the media among others.

Meanwhile Susie Gaynor McGowan (30) from Cavan told Independent.ie that the ex-employees are urgently seeking a meeting with the current directors of the company to determine the reasons behind the swift closure of the store and their future plans.

A petition calling on new owners Natrium to meet with the former workers has to-date gathered over 5000 signatures.

In June, Clerys was sold to a consortium called Natrium, which is headed up by Irish business woman Deirdre Foley.

“I worked for Clerys since 2004. I was in different departments all over the store but for the last few years I worked in customer service and ladies fashions.

“It's such a disgrace that an Irish business woman could treat Irish workers the way she did. We were shown no dignity or respect,” Susie said.

Susie revealed that after losing her job she opted to return to college and is currently studying industrial relations.

“We want answers, we want to know why they acted the way they did. To take over, not talk to us, kick us out of the building with no warning or respect,” she said.

SIPTU, the worker’s union, are backing them in petitioning for a change in company law.

Robert Purfield, an Industrial Organiser with SIPTU said that when the news broke he was dealing with people who were truly devestated.

"Nothing was explained to them by the new owners at he time.

"In fact, over six months later, Deirdre Foley and John Skelly have maintained this silence, ignoring the plight of the staff, a fact that only adds to the hurt and upset they feel," he said.

He has high praise for the way the various social welfare offices promptly arranged statutory redundancy for each of the Clerys workers.

“The Department of Social Protection were brilliant to deal with. They sat down with us and a few weeks later the redundancy money was distributed,” he said.

Caroline Egan from Dublin, who worked in Clerys accessories department for some 30 years was also out demonstrating on O’Connell Street.

She described the senseless way in which news of job losses was conveyed to the staff.

“There was no warning whatsoever, at 5.30pm everyone was called to the main staircase and told they had 10 minutes to take their gear and leave the building.

“I feel the most important thing that needs to be done is to change the law so that workers are afforded more respect. If it's allowed to happen once it will happen again and again,” she told Independent.ie.

“I've been job hunting non-stop and I'm doing educational courses as well.

Caroline explained that she has been job hunting for the last six months but has not secured a new position yet.

“When you're thirty years in the one job you feel you have to brush up after you leave.

“I'm a single parent with two children and a mortgage. I'm struggling to pay the bills,” she said.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein Cllr. Chris Andrews from Dublin City Council attended the demonstration to lend his support to the ex-employees.

“When you see the signs on Clerys windows wishing everyone a 'Merry Christmas' the irony really hits home.

“The workers were essentially locked out back in June and there's been no justice or fairness since,” he told Independent.ie.

Another ex-member of staff, Mary Webb from Glasnevin in Dublin, worked in the bedding department of Clerys for 16 years.

“We have really been treated very shabbily since the store closed.

“But the deal was done within the law, so what they did was legal and that is not right.

“To think that Irish citizens can be treated like this is so wrong,” she told Independent.ie.

Many members of the public stopped to listen to the chants and to say some words of support to the protesters.

Local woman Caren Gilroy said the job losses turned her stomach.

“It's nothing short of outrageous what was done to the workers," she said.

Another passer-by Lucy Murphy told Independent.ie that she has been shopping at Clerys for the past 50 years.

“It really was one of Dublin's iconic places. You could always tell the staff took pride in their work. I think it's desperately sad and I hope it will re-open."

Christmas shopper Rob Shannon described the treatment of the workers as “scandalous”.

“The Irish need to protest more, we take things lying down, that's the problem,” he told Independent.ie.

Thankfully at least one of the ex-workers has secured a new job.

Santa, aka Gerry Markey, said he was delighted to have been head-hunted recently by furniture retailer Harvey Norman.

“I started my new job in their branch in Rathfarnham. It's great to be working again," he said.

He said his colleagues were thrilled for him on landing a new role.

Both Natrium and D2 Private, a real estate investment and asset management business, have been contacted by Independent.ie for comment but have not responded at the time of publication.

It is understood the new owners of the property plan to develop a new shopping centre, as well as offices and leisure facilities, within the landmark Dublin building.

However it remains to be seen whether the Clerys workers will succeed in securing the face-to-face meeting with the purchasers that they so desperately want.

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