The union representing former Debenhams workers has written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin urging the Government to come up with "exceptional and creative" measures to resolve the long-running dispute over redundancy payments, after talks on Friday at the Workplace Relations Commission failed to resolve the row.
Mandate General Secretary Gerry Light confirmed that during a five-hour session at the WRC, the liquidators KPMG had warned that the pot of money funding the liquidation could run out before Christmas "or even sooner".
Several sources confirmed that the liquidators had made a revised ex-gratia offer estimated at between €500,000 and €750,000 in exchange for lifting pickets and allowing the liquidation to proceed.
However, that offer is significantly lower than a previous rejected offer of €1m plus one-third of the net profits of the sale of stock. Friday's offer was also dismissed by workers.
In his latest letter to the Taoiseach today, Mr Light said Mandate had learned that there was now a "high probability" that the current asset value of the liquidated business might be depleted by the end of this year, due to mounting expenses and additional costs which the liquidators were facing.
He stated: "If this reality does transpire it means not only will the ex-Debenhams workers lose out but the State will potentially forego many millions of euros that fall due as a preferential creditor.
"Surely knowing this the current Government cannot sit idly by and allow such a double travesty occur."
Mr Light said that at the WRC talks, Mandate representatives had clearly indicated that they were prepared to move towards a negotiated solution "... as long as a commensurate reciprocal approach was forthcoming from the other side."
"Regrettably instead of making an effort to bridge the gap between the parties the Liquidator was only prepared to propose a sum of money which was considerably less than that offered two months ago. I think it is fair and reasonable to suggest that such an approach is less than helpful in establishing circumstances whereby a mutually agreed settlement might be reached," Mr. Light told the Taoiseach.
Mr Light said the "window of opportunity for proactive intervention" was limited - adding that the best way to ensure the current value of the assets was protected was for the government to immediately use its influence and power to facilitate the conclusion of the ongoing industrial action.
"Anything less will send out a clear message that you are willing to allow the remaining assets of the business be distributed to a range of other private parties and interests ahead of the State and those who need and deserve them most, the workers."
He concluded by saying: "Time is running out so the State must act immediately before the assets end up disappearing altogether."
The union had previously written to the Taoiseach on 22 October calling for "definitive action" to end the dispute, but said that to date this remained unanswered.
Earlier Solidarity People Before Profit TD Mick Barry, who has campaigned for the Debenhams workers, also warned of the potential loss to all creditors - including the State - if the liquidators walked away from the liquidation.
"An action of this kind would not merely leave the workers without a decent redundancy package, it could also leave the State out of pocket by up to €20m," Mr Barry said.
"This is a new element in this dispute - now it is not just the workers but the State itself which is being threatened with being short-changed.
"The Government must now urgently intervene to ensure that the workers receive an improved offer and that this dispute is resolved," he added.
The TD also alleged that KPMG had told the WRC they face court cases this week from two landlords over issues related to Debenhams.
Around 1,000 workers who lost their jobs when the Irish operation collapsed in April have been seeking to enforce a collective agreement entitling them to redundancy terms of four weeks' pay per year of service.
However, the liquidators have argued that as the company is insolvent, the previous collective agreement no longer applies, and that the workers are only entitled to statutory redundancy of two weeks per year of service capped at €600 per week.
For over 200 days, the workers have been picketing the 11 stores preventing the liquidators from removing stock, as they argue the proceeds of the sale of that stock should be ring-fenced to boost their redundancy payments.
Shop steward Valerie Conlon, who attended Friday's WRC meeting, described the outcome as "disheartening", adding that it was a shame the dispute could not have been resolved sooner.
She confirmed that workers would maintain pickets for as long as the dispute continued.
In a statement this evening, KPMG said the joint liquidators would be respecting the confidentiality of the WRC discussions they were invited to on Friday in relation to the Debenhams liquidation - and that as such would not comment on the detail of those discussions.