Iceland staff end sit-in protest after reaching deal on redundancy

Staff at Coolock store describe chaos at the branch in recent days

Members of staff at Iceland’s Coolock branch talk of chaos at the store in recent days, with food that was subject to a safety recall left to rot in freezers that had been switched off pending its removal, and the shop itself ordered to close by health inspectors.

Even after hearing overnight that staff at the Northside Shopping Centre branch had received emails telling them their store would be closing, they say they were surprised to discover when they turned up for work at the nearby Greencastle Retail Park on Wednesday that their jobs were under threat too.

“The emails only started coming through after nine when we were all already here,” said Jeanette Joyce, one of three workers to start an impromptu sit-in when maintenance entered the premises a little while later.

Ms Joyce, Molly Prendergast and Karen Keatinge continued to occupy the store until around 7pm, with managers from head office opting to leave them in place.


Independent Workers Union representative Alex Homits said the staff had left the premises on Wednesday evening after reaching an agreement with the interim examiner regarding redundancy payments, in the event it is confirmed their jobs are to be lost, and receiving commitments in relation to other monies the workers are owed.

Gardaí were called at one stage earlier in the day but their only action was to seize a company van that was apparently to be used to remove some of the rotting stock, estimated by the staff members to have been worth almost €50,000.

Staff at the store had staged a strike last month in protest, they say, over problems with wages being paid and conditions at work as air conditioning units were switched off causing temperatures to soar because of the machinery.

Assurances were provided by representatives of the owners, Metron Stores Ltd, which had taken over the brand’s chain of 26 shops in the Republic of Ireland from its British parent earlier this year, that the issues would be addressed.

Though the staff speak of continued organisational problems, most said things operated relatively normally until Saturday when the store manager, Donna Cassells, was instructed to turn off all of the freezers containing the imported meat products that were subject to a Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) recall last week.

Though not for sale in the meantime, removing that food started only on Tuesday with Ms Prendergast among a number of workers who stayed until 9pm to transfer the packages of rotting meat to pallets behind the store. Twelve hours later, she returned to the shop on Greencastle Parade to be told by Ms Cassells that the store would not be opening.

The FSAI has confirmed a closure order was served on the branch due to immediate danger to the public.

The store manager had found out herself only an hour or so earlier while preparing to open when somebody from “loss prevention” had arrived, asked her if she had read her emails and then requested the keys.

“So I said, ‘Okay, I can see what’s coming here, is that it? Is my job gone?’ He didn’t respond to me but I gave him the keys and walked out,” Ms Cassells said.

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Ms Cassells, who returned to working for the company only two months ago, said it still felt like “an out-of-body experience”.

“We’re here now and we still have no idea what’s going on. The company was up in court yesterday [when an interim examiner was appointed] and we weren’t informed of that either. We’ve been told nothing.”

A few feet away Ms Joyce, Ms Predergast and Ms Keatinge sat just inside the store’s main entrance, the sliding doors slightly open, speaking to friends and wellwishers.

Calls and texts to their area manager have gone unanswered, they say, and all are concerned about their pay and holiday money. Ms Prendergast, who has been with the company about a year, said she was owed about €1,700 for extra hours worked a few months back.

Coolock was one of five stores to close suddenly on Wednesday, according to the staff who said the Talbot Street, Clonmel, Ballincollig and Northside Shopping Centre branches had also been shuttered.

The court was told on Tuesday the company had debts of €36 million, €34 million of which was owed to its owner, Project Point Technologies. About 350 people are employed across the chain.

The Coolock staff said the company had been good to work for until its takeover. “It’s gone completely downhill,” since then, said Ms Joyce. “They’ve been horrendous conditions to work in.”

Labour Party TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin visited the Coolock branch to speak to workers and said the atmosphere was “extremely tense”. He said it was an “absolutely disgraceful” way for the company’s staff to be treated.

Neither the company nor the examiner, Joseph Walsh Accountants, had responded to attempts by The Irish Times to contact them for comment. The examinership is due to return to court in two weeks.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times