Monday 19 February 2018

Clerys workers will only get statutory redundancy payments, over 300 people on O'Connell Street in solidarity with staff

Clerys employees to hold rally demanding meeting with owners

John Finn worked for Clerys for nearly 43 years but was given 20 minutes to leave the building
John Finn worked for Clerys for nearly 43 years but was given 20 minutes to leave the building

Emma Jane Hade and Robin Schiller

OVER 300 people descended on O'Connell Street today in solidarity with workers at the iconic store which is closing its doors.

It has emerged that 130 workers at the store will only get statutory redundancy payments.

A Siptu sector organiser said following this morning's meeting with the Government and liquidators KPMG that Clerys workers could be waiting “at least two months” for the money.

“It was a robust and frank meeting. There would have been a lot of anger from some of our members,” Siptu's Teresa Hannick said.

“Our main priority [at the meeting] was to find out as much information as we could of what the current situation is from the liquidator.”

“There is no money, there is no fund, there is nothing there. Our members will have to claim their redundancy, their arrears in wages – every one of them are owed at least two weeks’ wages at this stage – and any holiday pay or any other funds, from the social insurance fund, the government insolvency fund. It is our understanding that it’ll be at least two months before they get that.”

"Today we are signing a petition, online and outside Clerys, requesting Natrium to meet with the staff and explain this process of liquidation," she told RTE's Sean O'Rourke.

Earlier Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the treatment of Clerys workers as 'very insensitive'.

Mr Kenny was speaking ahead of a meeting between the government and the store liquidators this morning which was later described as "robust."

It emerged at the meeting that there was no extra money for ex gratia payments for workers and that the would only get statutory redundancy payments.

“Certainly it could have been handled a lot better,” he said.

People congregated outside Clerys on Dublin's O'Connell Street today in protest over how workers were treated in the wake of its sudden closure last Friday.

Ministers have condemned the closure of the iconic store, ahead of a meeting between union representatives and the company's court-appointed liquidators.

Siptu, the union representing many of the 460 staff who said they were given just 30 minutes' notice of the store closing, will seek answers about workers' entitlements from KPMG during a briefing in Liberty Hall.

Early indications are that the 130 direct employees of Clerys will only get statutory redundancy. They are expected to take part in a rally outside the store between midday and 2pm to "highlight the demand that the new owners meet with staff".

Siptu sector organiser Teresa Hannick said that workers had yet to hear from the new owners Natrium, who bought the store on Friday - just hours before it was dramatically shut.

"The workers are demanding that representatives of Natrium meet with them and their union representatives immediately to discuss the situation," she said.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe described the situation as "appalling".

"I do believe it is incumbent on the new owners of the site to meet the unions and the representatives of the workers to bring clarity to where these workers now stand at a very difficult time," he added.

Union representatives will also be joined by workers this evening as they meet with Employment Minister Ged Nash.

It has been indicated that they will receive the statutory two weeks of pay for each year of service to the company, which will be capped at €600 per week.

Gerry Markey, who worked at the department store for over 34 years, described how he was "shell-shocked" when he heard the news.

"I was down the country when I got a phone call to say that a meeting had been called, and then an hour later I received another call basically telling me that I'd lost my job," the former supervisor said.

"Last week I sold over €4,500 worth of furniture to a couple returning from Tokyo. That's gone now; the couple probably don't even know that they aren't getting the furniture or their money back."

James Connolly Heron, who is a great-grandson of James Connolly, also raised his concerns about the sale, as the site played a part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

It is understood that several international retailers have their eyes on the lucrative site.

"It looks like they are not going to be open for the centenary next year which is very regrettable. And more importantly, the way the workers are being treated is appalling," Mr Connolly Heron said.

Dublin City Council said that it had received no plans yet regarding a refurbishment, but it was understood that the building was a protected structure.


What is happening with iconic store?

Q: What's happening with Clerys - even the Tánaiste has come out against letting staff go; is this going to be stopped?

A: Tánaiste Joan Burton said the treatment of Clerys workers was "despicable", but other than ensuring former employees get their full benefits, there is no indication she or anyone else will intervene in the case.

Q. Why not?

A. Because the liquidation is all being done to the letter of the law. The staff weren't sacked by Natrium, the consortium that bought Clerys. They were let go by liquidators Kieran Wallace and Eamonn Richardson of KPMG, who were appointed by the High Court.

Q Kieran Wallace ... his name seems to be everywhere these days?

A. Indeed. Mr Wallace and Mr Richardson are also the joint special liquidators of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation.

Q. Do they have time for Clerys too?

A. The two accountants oversee hundreds of staff who help manage these cases. Once a liquidation is under way, the liquidators' first job is to secure any assets - not just stock in the shop but cash in bank accounts or money owed to the business - as well as inform staff and suppliers about what is happening.

Liquidators must sell off the assets and use the money to pay off company debts, starting with Revenue and employees. They also have to keep the courts informed about the process.

Q. So the workers are out and the courts are fine with that - but if Clerys is in liquidation, how come the owners get to keep the building?

A. Good question. The company that operated Clerys - including employing 130 staff - told the High Court it was insolvent and needed to go into liquidation. However, a separate company owns the physical store and is not part of the insolvency. That is not unusual. Each company has its own legal personality in Irish law, so even two companies within a group are usually treated as separate by the courts.

Q. Is that always the case?

A. In rare cases, if a liquidator thinks one firm in a group contributed to a connected company ending up insolvent, they can claw back money through what is called a "contribution order".

Irish Independent

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