THE RATHER discreet change of ownership at the Iceland stores has resulted in raised temperatures in the frozen food chain, where the new owner, one Naeem Maniar, has adopted a pretty confrontational approach. Indeed, it hasn’t taken him long to call in the dreaded legal eagles. One high-profile personality keeping an eye on developments is Game of Thrones star and outspoken lefty Liam Cunningham.
Celbridge, Co Kildare-based Indian businessman Maniar is no stranger to the Iceland brand, having previously operated the Irish franchise from 2008 to 2013. After the franchise was taken back under the wing of the London-headquartered parent company in late 2013, Maniar’s company changed its name to ACCHL and entered examinership in 2015.
In 2015, the Indian Baroda Bank demanded payment of €440,000 from Maniar and his wife, Anne, who subsequently turned to the insolvency legislation. Their debt-settlement arrangement was approved by the Circuit Court in January 2018 but it didn’t take Naeem Maniar too long to bounce back and he has had a number of companies operating under his control, including retail brands such as Centz and (until recently) Homesavers.
Earlier this year, Iceland in London decided to cease its hands-on role in the Irish market and return to the former franchise model. This followed a disastrous pandemic, with accumulated losses hitting €22m by the end of March 2022. Enter Naeem Maniar, who picked up the company that was operating the 27 stores here.
The Iceland Stores Ireland company name was immediately changed to Metron Stores Ltd and long-time Maniar HR manager Carol Macartney was appointed a director.
The changeover has, however, not gone smoothly and on foot of staff disquiet over the future of their jobs and claims of delayed wages and poor working conditions, industrial action took place last month at some of the Dublin branches. Liam Cunningham was quick to tweet that he was “proudly supporting the #Iceland workers on strike” and also turned up on site in Coolock.
The new Iceland management maintains that proper notice of the industrial action was not given, although this is denied by the Independent Workers’ Union (IWU), which now finds itself named as a defendant in High Court proceedings issued by Naeem Maniar’s Metron Stores under industrial relations legislation.
Along with the IWU (represented by legal eagle Brendan Sheehy), three individuals have also been named as defendants in the action – including IWU general secretary Jamie Stewart, Iceland worker Joyce Flood and another union officer (all represented by Prospect Law).
While there have been some assurances given by Metron Stores regarding grievances outlined in certain Iceland stores, the IWU claims that other stores have been left in limbo. It is unclear whether the next step in this row will be in the courts or on the picket line but the legal meter is now ticking.