Tesco Ireland shows little love to its workforce

Mandate union has good reason for serving a Valentine’s Day strike notice on the retailer

To get a measure of where Tesco Ireland falls on the scale of bad-to-good employers, it is useful to turn the clock back to the grim peak of JobBridge, the scheme that devalued labour with depressing efficiency.

In 2011, a year in which the British supermarket chain made a global profit of £3.8 billion, Tesco sought to fill 218 six-month positions under JobBridge, where participating workers received €50 from the Department of Social Protection on top of their social welfare entitlement. They received no payment at all from the companies that merrily availed of the scheme and who no doubt could hardly believe their luck.


At a stroke, Tesco used JobBridge to redefine customer service and stacking shelves as an internship, rather than a paying job for which a couple of weeks’ training was normally required.

In 2017, Tesco Ireland is scarcely showing much more love to its workforce, and as a result, the Mandate trade union has issued a strike notice initially affecting nine stores. It is scheduled to begin next Tuesday, St Valentine's Day, and will continue "for an indefinite duration", said Mandate, which represents more than 10,000 Tesco workers.


The matter at the heart of the strike is this: Tesco’s longer-serving employees, the ones whose contracts of employment date back to less exploitative times, are a bit expensive compared to staff hired more recently. This is a familiar story with a familiar endgame.


Staff employed before 1996 were targeted through a redundancy programme and about 700 left last year. Now the supermarket is trying to push through unfavourable changes to the contracts of the remaining 250, with the result that some workers could see up to 15 per cent of their income disappear.

The union is clear in its motivation for this strike. If Tesco succeeds in tearing up the pre-1996 contracts, it will soon come after the 3,000 workers on the next-highest hourly rate of pay, and then a “negative ripple effect” could extend elsewhere in the private sector.

Tesco employs 14,500 people in Ireland. The company refuses to say how much of a profit it makes here, but without those 14,500 workers, it wouldn’t make a cent.