Monday 18 February 2019

Debenhams closures putting 1,600 Irish jobs at risk

High Street blow: Up to 90 stores could be closed across the Debenhams chain
High Street blow: Up to 90 stores could be closed across the Debenhams chain

Anne-Marie Walsh

Debenhams has refused to guarantee more than 1,600 Irish jobs are safe amid reports that up to 90 stores face the axe.

A further 1,000 jobs are at risk at high street giant Marks and Spencer - although its latest wave of closures do not include Irish shops.

Marks has announced plans to shut 100 stores by 2022 - which included a closure in Newry - as it moves a third of its sales online.

A Debenhams spokesperson would not comment if any Irish stores will be closed following claims it may double the outlets it shuts in the next three to five years.

A senior official at Mandate, which represents 1,600 Debenhams staff, said he had been unable to clarify the chain's plans for Ireland since it announced 50 stores would close late last year. Assistant general secretary Gerry Light said he would seek an urgent meeting with management in the coming days to discuss its plans.

Debenhams has 11 stores in the Republic, including outlets in Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Tralee, Waterford and Newbridge.

It is understood an internal memo from chief executive Sergio Bucher attempts to reassure staff there is a solid business plan after he was voted off the board last Friday.

"There have been concerns about Debenhams for some time in terms of how it is managing to compete in the modern marketplace," said Mr Light. "There has been much speculation about closures.

"We met senior management last November about the ongoing difficulties facing the business including control of the business as there was speculation that there would be store closures late last year. We tried to tease that out with the management team. I got a sense there were no immediate plans for the closure of the Irish stores but we were not given a definite response."

He said a dramatic annual general meeting last week had fuelled recent speculation about closures.

Debenhams announced it could shut 50 stores last October following yearly losses of almost €560m.

It went into examinership two years ago, blaming high rents.

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley owns almost 30pc of the company and ousted the chairman and forced the chief executive to leave the board at last week's AGM. Last year, the company made a pre-tax loss of €246,000 in Ireland.

Meanwhile, the Government has shot down claims it will table a new pay offer for over 40,000 nurses to avert six strikes from January 30. General secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association Peter Hughes claimed department officials would table proposals on Monday to bring nurses' wages in line with other professions following a meeting with officials from the Department of Health.

He said overtime and spending on agency staff would be used to offset the cost of the proposals.

But Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe's department said there was "no basis or validity" to the claims.

"The claim is cost increasing by its very nature with potential repercussive claims arising from other public service employees if it were to be conceded. There is no question of any such trade off on cost neutrality being considered," said a spokesperson.

Health Minister Simon Harris said any solution would have to be found within the framework of the public service pay deal, which rules out cost-increasing claims.

Nurses plan a 24-hour strike on January 30, and five other dates next month.

They want wage hikes in the region of 12pc to put their pay on a par with other healthcare staff including radiographers, on the back of a recruitment and retention crisis.

Government ministers have warned they will not improve on a €20m offer for nurses in specialised grades. The Public Service Pay Commission recommended the offer but found no general recruitment crisis among nurses.

Irish Independent

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