Debenhams thinks it’s above the law but workers are showing that they won’t back down, reports Chris Neville
Saturday in Manchester saw another in a series of weekly protests staged by Debenhams workers outside the Market Street store.
The protests are being carried out in response to a recent wave of redundancies inflicted on shopworkers for the department store chain, which has entered administration twice in the last 18 months. They are led in Manchester by Laila Hassan, a worker in the Market Street store and member of Usdaw.
Laila spoke about how she and other colleagues had been notified of a conference call by text message last month. On that call, the following morning, she and other Debenhams workers were told that they were being made redundant with just three days' notice and no consultation. This, according to Usdaw, breaches UK redundancy legislation.
Some of those made redundant have been re-hired on short term contracts with lesser conditions than they previously had and others have been told they should look to re-apply for their jobs around the busier Christmas period. This insensitive attitude is consistent with how badly Debenhams has treated its staff. How are they expected to feed and house themselves until Christmas?
At one point (pictured), the manager responsible for the redundancies came out to ask the protest to stop. Laila confronted her directly to make a solid case against the appalling treatment she and other colleagues had faced. A crowd gathered around to hear this and the manager disappeared back into the store to chants of 'shame' as Laila received a round of applause.
Present in support of the Debenhams workers were Manchester Trades Council, Manchester Climate Action, Manchester People's Assembly and several socialist organisations. There were representatives from Usdaw and Usdaw Young Workers.
As we have seen repeatedly in recent pro-worker action in Manchester, the police were called and asked to break it up. When they arrived, the Usdaw rep correctly pointed out that the protesters were not breaking any laws, unlike Debenhams. He instead insisted that the police should go inside the store to arrest those who have.
Many members of the public signed a petition on the stall, calling on the company to re-hire the staff. A leaflet quoted the company's chair, Mark Gifford as saying that they had £50m more in the bank than they had projected. The Manchester store, according to Laila, made £5m in profit last year.
The company's attempts to avoid redundancy pay or consultation, knowing full well that it is illegal, shows that they see themselves as above the law. Perhaps they hope that employees will avoid costly and lengthy tribunal processes but the redundant workers have shown they will not back down without a fight.
The protests are scheduled to carry on every Saturday at 3pm outside Debenhams on Market Street.
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