Staff at Dunnes Stores vote for industrial action

Dispute centres on pay, contracts and representation rights

Mandate has said 67%of its members at Dunnes Stores voted in favour of industrial action.

Staff at the retailer Dunnes Stores have voted to undertake industrial action in a dispute over pay, contracts and representation rights.

The trade union Mandate said 67 per cent of its members at the company voted in favour of industrial action.

The union's assistant general secretary Gerry Light said its national disputes committee would consider the result of the ballot early next week and determine the nature and timing of any industrial action.

Mandate said its members in Dunnes Stores were seeking the implementation of banded hour contracts which would give workers security of hours and earnings, fair pay for workers, a review of “excessive use” of temporary contracts of employment and individual and collective representation rights in the company.

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Under a system of “banded hours”, employees are guaranteed that their weekly working hours for the company will not fall below those in a specific “band” of hours that applies to them.

Dunnes Stores worker Cathy McLoughlin said: "Our employer continues to refuse entering into discussions with us through our union, and they won't even go to the Labour Court to address our issues. None of us want to go on strike because we really can't afford it, but what other option have we got? Our employer can stop the strike by simply agreeing to meet our union and we don't feel that's an unreasonable request.

"All we're really asking is to be treated the same as workers in other retail outlets like Tesco, Penneys and Supervalu who have secure hours and a right to be represented by their union."

Mandate has maintained that management at Dunnes Stores has refused to to abide by the terms of a collective agreement which the company freely signed up to in 1996.

The Labour Court in November found the union and Dunnes Stores had reached a collective agreement for the resolution of disputes.

“The court takes the view that where the parties have freely concluded such an agreement, they should each comply with its terms in the management of their relationships.”

The court urged the company and the union to meet to resolve their differences.

However in a letter to staff last month Dunnes said it would not enter into direct discussions with a trade union and would avail of all of its legal entitlements in that regard.

"Dunnes Stores, similar to many substantial companies that operate in Ireland and internationally, do not engage directly with trade unions. We live in a country that has a constitution that recognises the right of association that is to become a member of a trade union, which Dunnes Stores wholeheartedly endorses.

“This right is one that the company acknowledges is every employee’s right but in as much as the Constitution recognises that right; it also recognises that there is a right effectively of disassociation, namely that an employer is not obliged to nor must it talk or engage directly with trade unions.”

Dunnes Stores said at a time when the retail industry was fighting for survival, staff in the company had received two pay increases while it had also maintained employment levels.

“When each of you joined Dunnes Stores, you did so upon the terms of contract of employment that was offered.”

Dunnes Stores maintained that Mandate had, in communication with staff, sought to generate concern and fear in relation to issues that did not exist and which fundamentally were not capable of giving rise to a dispute under industrial relations legislation.

The company said the union’s real objective was to secure rights to represent Dunnes workers at store and national level.

Mr Light said Dunnes remained a highly profitable retailer with an estimated turnover of approximately €2.2 billion in the Irish grocery sector alone.

“It won’t cost them anything but pride to sit down and negotiate a banded hours framework which would afford their employees the same security of hours and income which is common place in all of their main competitors.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent