Cynical government defers Debenhams Bill

By Finghin Kelly

Six years ago saw Clery’s department store in Dublin go into a tactical liquidation, leaving workers high and dry while shareholders kept hold of the bulk of the company’s assets. At the time the government were forced into saying that this should never happen again and set up the Cahill Duffy process which recommended that workers in liquidations needed more rights including measures against tactical liquidations, the right to be informed, and improved access to assets.

These recommendations have not been implemented, with the governments of Fine Gael, Labour, Independents, Fianna Fáil and Greens sitting on their hands, pointing to a long-winded and complex overall review of company law.

Talk is cheap

In the meantime more workers have faced a similar fate to those in Clery’s. One of the most prominent examples has been the Debenhams workers. As with Clery’s it has been a near constant refrain from government politicians about how they would love to do more to support the Debenhams workers, how they sympathise with them, how they were shoddily treated and so forth.

Of course, Debenhams workers and workers around the country know well that talk is cheap. This was highlighted further when the government postponed the passing of the so-called Debenhams Bill this month for at least a year.

This Bill was put forward by Solidarity and Socialist Party TD Mick Barry. The Bill seeks to boost workers’ rights in two ways: firstly it would put workers at the top of the queue for payouts. Secondly, it would give any collective agreements in relation to redundancies the status of a debt. These measures combined would greatly improve the position of workers who were in the position of Debenhams workers.

There is a renewed urgency to implementing these measures. We are facing a retail jobs massacre in the autumn after state supports are withdrawn due to the underlying crisis in capitalism. Even Leo Varadkar has pointed to this in the media.

Workers need union action

This is exactly the reason the government has kicked these proposals to touch. They want to ensure big business has a freer hand in being able to protect their assets and wealth, and are free to throw workers on the scrapheap in the cheapest way possible.

Although improved redundancy rights would be welcome, it is essential that there is a struggle to defend jobs. We cannot allow working-class people yet again be forced to pay the price for the crisis of capitalism.

Workers need to organise to defend jobs. Corporations shedding jobs should be taken into public ownership. Any labour saved through technological change or changes in shopping patterns should be used to benefit workers, not the bottom line of corporations. Instead of job losses we need to see the reduction in the working week without loss of pay, and the retraining and redeployment of workers into socially useful work.