Jordan Norris

Former Debenhams workers in Waterford have marked one year on the picket at their Lady Lane base this week, but have vowed to continue fighting for both themselves and the future rights of all workers.

Speaking to the Munster Express, shop steward Michelle Gavin said that when initial picketing began last April, she never believed that they would still be in the same predicament some 365 days later.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year. You were saying to yourself all along that it’ll be sorted in three months, six months and all of a sudden here we are. We held high hopes of finding a resolution and getting the matter sorted just in time for Christmas but it wasn’t to be. Still, we hold out hope. We’re a stubborn bunch!”

Michelle noted that the group withhold hopes of an end being in sight, with talks currently ongoing to break down a €3m upskilling package which was offered by government some months ago.

“We’re currently in talks with Solas and looking into the fund. The Taoiseach has made it clear to us that they are unwilling to ringfence anything in our direction. We need to see how it would benefit all of us who were affected by the Debenhams closure. There’s a lot of us at varying ages and different stages in our careers. We are currently breaking down what was offered to us.”

The substance of the picket no longer centres around financial remunerations. Michelle says that what is imperative now is the fight for the recommendations of the Duffy-Cahill Report to be implemented.

A group gathered at City Square on Friday to mark the first anniversary of the Debenhams workers picket and to demonstrate their support and solidarity for the former workers. Representatives from WCTU, Unite Community Branch, People Before Profit, Sinn Fein and community organisations joined the Debenhams workers in a short march and rally in the city centre before returning to the picket line for light refreshments including sandwiches and cakes donated by local businesses.

“It’s no longer about money. We want to see the legislation implemented. Picketing is our job for now. It’s not where we want to be but we go out and get up and we just do it. Some of us will eventually move on, people have to decide what they want to do and as I said earlier some of us are of varying ages. There are other means of protest to picketing which we’ve also done and I vow personally that in future, I will be fighting for the implementation of the legislation. The worker is the backbone of Ireland. We have stood up for ourselves all along and that’s something no one can ever take away from us.”

The level of support for those on the picket has never wavered over the past twelve months, something which all of the ex-workers are incredibly grateful for.

“The level of support has always been fantastic. There have been days when you ask yourself ‘what am I doing?’ but then someone will come up to you and tell you how much they admire what you’re doing and it makes it feel worthwhile. We have fought for this long and shown we can fight for as long as needs be. Hopefully in the end, a resolution worthwhile to all parties can be found.”