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Tuesday 21 January 2020

Former Clerys workers secure €1m payout in long-running row

Natrium director Deirdre Foley, second from right, with Ethel Buckley of Siptu, centre front, Mayor Brendan Carr and some of the former Clerys staff at the announcement. Photo: Tony Gavi
Natrium director Deirdre Foley, second from right, with Ethel Buckley of Siptu, centre front, Mayor Brendan Carr and some of the former Clerys staff at the announcement. Photo: Tony Gavi

Paul Melia

Former workers at the Clerys department store will share a compensation package totalling more than €1m after winning a long-running battle following the unexpected loss of their jobs in June 2015.

The iconic store, built in 1922, closed its doors without warning after it was bought for €29m by the Natrium company, the public face of which is businesswoman Deirdre Foley.

The State paid statutory redundancy to workers totalling €2.5m. Natrium paid nothing, but held on to the building which is now subject to a €150m mixed-use redevelopment project which includes retail, offices, a rooftop viewing platform and 176-bedroom hotel.

The project was approved by Dublin City Council last December, but Siptu, which represents Clerys workers, lodged an appeal to An Bord Pleanála, raising the prospect of it being delayed or refused. On Monday, the union withdrew its appeal after a deal for workers was reached.

Both sides have refused to elaborate on the details, citing confidentiality, but have confirmed that former workers will each receive a "goodwill payment", and a "process to recognise" their services will be put in place when jobs are offered in the new development.

Sources have suggested the amount to be paid to the 130 workers is between €1m and €2m, and will be based on working patterns and years of service. The settlement also includes an "understanding" around fair working conditions, and communities of the north east inner city will be offered training and employment opportunities when the scheme is developed.

Read More: Work can proceed on €150m Clerys scheme after Siptu withdraws appeal

Siptu heralded the settlement as being the first stage in creating a "series of community benefit agreements" between unions, business and community organisations. Worker Maureen Deans, employed by Clerys for 15 years and who worked in the curtain department when the shop closed, said public support was crucial.

"It's a bit of closure but we still have to continue to fight for the law to change so other workers aren't treated the way we were," she said. "We were lucky we had the support of the public behind us. The support was absolutely amazing."

Gerry Markey, a Siptu shop steward and bed salesperson with 35 years' service, said that not until yesterday had workers met with their former employer, adding that workers were happy with the deal.

Clerys was restructured in 2012 as part of a receivership process by its previous owners and bankers which resulted in the property assets being separated into one company, and the day-to-day retail business operation put in another.

When the operating company went into liquidation, staff were made redundant without warning. Some 130 were directly employed by Clerys, and the remaining 330 by concessionary companies, some of whom may have been relocated to other outlets.

Dublin Lord Mayor Brendan Carr is credited with brokering the agreement, contacting both parties in recent weeks. Mr Carr said the law needed to be changed to protect workers.

Ms Foley said she was "delighted to end" a long-running dispute in the "best interests of all involved", but refused to issue a public apology. "I'm not here today to talk about the past," she said.

The Workplace Relations Commission is undertaking an investigation on behalf of the Government into how Clerys workers were let go, which could lead to criminal action. A report is expected soon.

Irish Independent

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