Thursday, 15 October 2020
Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)
I responded to the core parts of the budget on Tuesday evening and will focus now on how it will do nothing for workers. I will speak particularly about three different groups of workers in a struggle, the first of whom are the Debenhams workers. They have now been involved in a dispute with their former employer for more than six months, since they were thrown on the scrapheap in a tactical insolvency. Incidentally, it was a tactical insolvency that the company was able to carry out because of the failure of the previous Government to implement the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report.
Since then, the workers have mounted effective pickets and protests, fighting for what they are owed and for what had previously been agreed with Debenhams, namely, a redundancy package of two weeks per year of service on top of the statutory requirement of two weeks. There is more than enough stock to pay for that redundancy with a substantial amount left over but KPMG, the liquidator, refuses to pay that and, instead, made an offer that was extremely insulting for the workers a month ago. That offer was rejected by all the shop stewards, and KPMG then withdrew it but refused to come back to the negotiating table. Incredibly, KPMG brought the workers to court on Tuesday, where it was awarded an injunction against effective picketing by them.
The Debenhams dispute has always been a struggle for all workers, because it is about how workers are treated, the ability of companies to get away without paying their debts to workers and who will pay the price for the coronavirus crisis. That is even more the case now because the dispute is about the right of workers to wage and engage in effective picketing. The workers have, in effect, been told they cannot engage in effective picketing. The problems with the Industrial Relations Acts, which need to be repealed, are being exposed in this dispute. It is vital, therefore, that the entire trade movement and workers in general stand behind the Debenhams workers, continue to engage in effective picketing and refuse to allow the stock to leave the stores because it is simply the only leverage they have.
I have a warning for the Government. If KPMG follows through and attempts to use that injunction to prevent effective picketing, workers - most likely mothers and grandmothers - will be sent to prison, probably in the next week or two, because they refuse to be treated this way by KPMG and Debenhams. The Taoiseach has stated repeatedly that Debenhams, as a company, has treated its workers shoddily. If the workers end up in jail because of the Government's refusal to put any pressure on KPMG to come back to the negotiating table and to make a serious offer, the workers who are put in prison will feel themselves treated very shoddily by the Government, and there will be a substantial political price to pay.
The second group of workers is those at DAA, formerly Dublin Airport Authority. The 130 craft workers rejected overwhelmingly, by more than 85%, a proposal for supposedly new ways of working. These "new ways of working" are a euphemism for getting rid of demarcation and dramatically changing the workers' rosters, which would effectively double the numbers of weekends and overnights they have to work without getting any allowances for any of that work, such as for being on call or for overtime. The workers were correct to reject this proposal but the response of this semi-State company was outrageous. It put the workers on 60% time, not even over three days a week but spread over five days so that the workers cannot claim unemployment benefit for the days they do not work. I praise the workers for rejecting that deal and standing up to a bullying campaign by management. I support them in their struggle to refuse to accept this or to allow the company, in the words of one of the managers, "to end the unions at Dublin Airport", because I think that is the intention.
Finally, I express my support for school secretaries. They are vital at any time for the running of our schools but at this time, in particular, their importance is being demonstrated. The discrimination against the vast majority of school secretaries who are not directly employed by the Department of Education and Skills is quite outrageous. The workers earn €12,700 per year and have to sign on for the summer. It is simply unacceptable and all of them should be directly employed by the Department.