Liquidator KPMG withdraws Debenhams redundancy offer

11 September 2020 3 min. read

Liquidators from KPMG have been facing off with redundant Debenhams workers in Ireland, withdrawing the firm’s offered payment scheme after the retailer’s staff staged sit in protests across Ireland. The proposed €1 million top-up of 1,000 workers’ statutory redundancies had been labelled an “insult” by workplace representatives.

April 2020 saw high street stalwart Debenhams has appointed administrators for the second time in 12 months, having failed to find a buyer of its ailing operations. Soon after, the company confirmed it planned to close 11 stores in the Republic of Ireland with immediate effect.

Following the news, liquidators from KPMG have been in a pitched battle against axed staff, who labelled the firm’s redundancy offer as ‘unfair’, and picketed closed stores for more than 100 days. With workers giving up dozens of hours every week to stand outside stores nationwide to prevent stock from being removed onsite, union officials claimed that KPMG was steadfastly unwilling to consult them on its offer.

Liquidator KPMG withdraws Debenhams redundancy offer

Valerie Conlon, who served as a Debenhams Mandate shop steward in Cork, told the Irish Examiner, “We feel that KPMG, instead of working with us, are working against us. They are meant to be working with the creditors and we are still a creditor… "KPMG are saying we are unofficial strike. There is no such thing as an unofficial strike. They are probably calling us unofficial because we stopped the stock from going out but it is an official strike in all 11 stores… They probably want an end to it but we want an end to it as well."

KPMG insisted that the staff needed to leave so that it could commence the sale of Debenhams’ remaining assets. The workers held firm, however, extending their sit in into September. In a statement issued to the media as the former workers went into stores in Dublin and Cork, the staff said they wanted “a just settlement of four weeks’ redundancy pay per year of service.”

As reported by the Irish Times, KPMG had offered to provide a fund of €1 million to about 1,000 workers on top of statutory redundancy payments – however, workers claimed that this averaged out as a negligible amount.

Conlon explained, “Instead of providing two weeks per year of service on top of the statutory minimum, the offer provides for an extra one day’s pay per year of service. That is a real insult.”

With no ground being given on either side, when workers continued to stage a sit in protest in stores across Ireland to prevent that, the authorities were called in, and in early September the Gardaí confirmed that six people had been arrested for trespassing under the Public Order Act, during an incident at Henry Street in Dublin. The police added they were also investigating an alleged act of criminal damage at the same premises. KPMG then stated that its offer could be considered as “withdrawn.”

A later KPMG statement read, “Following the actions of certain people overnight it has now become clear that the offer is not acceptable to the former employees and others. No further settlement agreements will be negotiated by the liquidators with the former employees.”