Tesco encouraging staff in industrial dispute ‘to leave unions’

Company rejects suggestion it ‘proactively’ encouraged workers on membership

Trollies at a Tesco store in Dublin, as workers in nine Tesco stores are to go on all-out strike from St Valentine’s Day. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Trollies at a Tesco store in Dublin, as workers in nine Tesco stores are to go on all-out strike from St Valentine’s Day. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Workers involved in an industrial dispute at Tesco have received letters from the company offering to help them leave the trade union movement, it has been claimed.

The dispute centres on workers who joined the company prior to 1996. About 700 of these left last year under a redundancy programme, and the supermarket is now attempting to implement changes to the contracts of the remaining 250 individuals.

Mandate, the trade union that represents the bulk of the workers, said the changes would mean some workers could see their incomes reduced by up to 15 per cent.

The dispute has led to workers at nine Tesco stores voting to commence indefinite strike action from February 14th, which is Valentine’s Day, while another five stores will join them on the picket lines from February 17th.

Following a meeting of trade union leaders in Dublin on Thursday, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions claimed Tesco was engaged in a campaign to encourage workers to leave their unions.

It said letters from a senior company director were distributed to staff, offering to facilitate them in exiting their respective trade unions if they filled out a form.

“It has taken an extremely serious turn,” said congress general secretary Patricia King. “The company has made decisions that demonstrate how they intend to approach their dealings with staff into the future.

“They are telling workers they will work when they want them to work, on the terms they want them to work, and that they would be better off leaving their trade unions. They have provided workers with forms to leave their unions.”

Desire to leave

A spokeswoman for Tesco denied the company was “proactively” encouraging workers to leave unions, and said the letters were only distributed in circumstances where workers had previously expressed a desire to leave.

“We are not circulating any materials encouraging colleagues to leave the union,” she said. “We respect our colleagues’ right to choose if they wish to be in a union or not. If colleagues indicate they wish to leave the union then obviously we have to process this request.”

Mandate general secretary John Douglas said the letters were “an attack on all trade union members”.

“The company is seeking to take trade unionism off the pitch,” he said.

Mr Douglas called on all union members to “shop with their conscience” on February 14th and beyond. “We believe we will get a massive response from the public.”

In a statement, Tesco said it was “shocked at the stance” taken by ICTU and urged Mandate to accept a recent Labour Court recommendation in relation to the dispute.

“We are further disappointed that Mandate continues to engage in a campaign of myths and misinformation to misguide our colleagues and damage our business impacting everyone who works for Tesco,” it added.