One of the owners of the Paris Bakery in Dublin has told RTÉ News he disputes claims by staff that he owes them €55,000 in unpaid wages.
The bakery closed unexpectedly last Wednesday and workers are now occupying the premises in Moore Street in pursuit of their entitlements.
However, co-owner Yannick Forel said he owed a total of €130,000 to the Revenue Commissioners, staff and creditors.
He rejected claims that staff were owed two months’ back pay, saying payment was at-most two weeks late.
He claimed he had unsuccessfully sought help from the Government but had now lost all his money as well as his reputation.
He said he had run into difficulty because the Government had sought the premises for a new shopping centre, and he lost 70% of his turnover because customers thought he had already closed down.
He said he wanted to pay staff outstanding wages, but had lost €3m he had invested in the business.
He is consulting with lawyers to establish the best way to proceed.
Unions and the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, who are assisting the staff, stood over their claims that the workers were owed €55,000 - adding that the sum could be even higher.
Meanwhile, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who visited the occupation this afternoon, pledged to liaise with the Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation and the Revenue Commissioners to see what could be done to assist the workers.
Ms Burton said she would try to expedite arrangements for access to social welfare payments for the staff, some of whom say they are now homeless.
However, she said that would depend on co-operation from the employer.
President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions John Douglas, who has joined the occupation, called on the Minister to amend the law to make it a criminal offence for an employer not to pay an employee's wages, and to close this loophole on workers' rights.
Mr Douglas, who is also the general secretary of the retail workers' union Mandate, said situations like this had arisen all too often, and that the "law was an ass" in that it permitted employers to get away with it.
He called for emergency legislation to give immediate access to the State insolvency fund and social welfare, saying staff had been left in limbo.
ICTU said a particular problem arose where an employer ceases trading but does not formally wind up the business.
It said that this situation is not covered by existing law, meaning employers can simply walk away, leaving workers with no rights.
It cited similar situations that have arisen at Vita Cortex, La Senza, HMV, Game, Thomas Cook and Connolly Shoes in recent years.