Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Enterprise, Trade and Employment): Statements
Next Tuesday morning there will be a protest outside Topshop on Opera Lane in Cork city centre. The protest is being organised by ex-Arcadia workers. They are angry at their former employer because they have been cheated out of the two week's pay for every two years' service redundancy agreement they had in place with the company. They are not just angry with the company, however. They are very critical of the Government as well. They saw the Clery's workers being told that they were the last ones who would be forced to suffer in this situation. Then they saw the Debenham's workers being promised the same and now it is their turn. Where is the legislation? The programme for Government said there would be legislation to improve worker's rights in a liquidation situation. We were told to expect it at Christmas, then during the new year and it is now the second half of February so what is the position on that? I will submit legislation on this issue myself if we do not see something very soon. Debenham's workers rejected the offer by a 9:1 majority. Their struggle continues. In the nearest Debenham's store to me, on Patrick Street in Cork, there is a daily picket even now. In other stores there is a watch on the stock. Workers have leverage here. There is stock in at least eight of the 11 stores and it will not move without a just settlement. There was an offer of €3 million for an upskilling fund. The shop stewards have asked that this money be transferred into a cash redundancy payment. I would like the Tánaiste to comment on that.
The European Commission has a draft directive for adequate minimum wages in EU member states and collective bargaining on a national scale, to be put in place where collective bargaining does not cover 70% of the workforce. The Tánaiste has written, along with representatives of eight other EU Governments, asking that this be diluted to a mere recommendation, something that would be worthless to workers in this country. His action will be cheered by every anti-trade union employer in the country. They know that keeping trade unions out and keeping workers from organising is key to keeping wages low, conditions below par and profits high. The Tánaiste signed that letter alongside representatives of far right Governments in Poland and Hungary. How does he explain that?
It is true, as the Tánaiste has said, that the decision has not been made on Ulster Bank but the decision will be made tonight. It is an open secret that NatWest will close Ulster Bank in this country. This includes 1.1 million customers, 89 bank branches and 2,800 workers, in a bank which has sent €3.5 billion in profit to NatWest in the UK in recent years. Does the Tánaiste support what I support, which is legislation to stop the vultures getting their hands on the mortgage loan books? Does the Tánaiste support the idea that this bank should be nationalised to save jobs and to protect services?