Dunnes settlement hopes rise after new talks

 

HOPES for a settlement of the long running Dunnes Stores dispute have risen dramatically following the first direct talks between the two sides for many weeks.

Reliable sources said last night that the next few days could be crucial to reaching a settlement.

The two sides met for 3 1/2 hours on Friday. Despite progress, significant obstacles remain to restoring industrial peace in the country's largest retail firm. There is a danger that if these are not removed within the next few days the dispute could escalate.

The company has offered to pay £50 to each of its 1,000 full time employees, and pro rata amounts to 7,500 part time staff, as a gesture of good faith to reopen negotiations. The offer amounts to about 80 per cent of the back money due to staff under a Labour Court productivity award last September.

However, last night a spokesman for the Mandate union, which represents most Dunnes Stores workers, said the offer was not acceptable.

He said the Labour Court award was one of the basic terms for settling last summer's strike and should be paid in full.

"A clear signal is required and commitment from the company of its willingness to abide by the labour relations machinery," he said. "If they can't implement a specific recommendation of the Labour Court, what hope is there?"

A company spokesman expressed disappointment at the outcome of the talks so far, but described them as "useful".

He said the £50 lump sum was a gesture, without prejudice, of its intent to negotiate in good faith on the productivity required for the 3 per cent.

The productivity was part of, the quid pro quo which the Labour Court had indicated should be negotiated in return for the increase.

Dunnes Stores is clearly worried that if it pays the full 3 per cent it will have no leverage left to ensure there is significant productivity conceded by the unions in return for the pay rise.

A company spokesman said last night that there would be problems about maintaining the viability of some branches, if significant productivity was not conceded by the unions.

Both sides have "left the door open" for further talks.

Even if the problem over back money is resolved there is still a veritable mountain of industrial relations issues to climb.

While zero hour contracts have been abolished at the company, only 52 of the promised additional 200 staff positions have been filled. There has been no progress on pensions and the climate of mutual distrust remains.

Meanwhile, CSO figures on industrial disputes for the first three quarters of 1995 show that 92,545 days were lost through strikes in the second quarter. This is the period of the Dunnes strike and the days lost exceed the total number of days lost through strikes in 1994 and 1993 combined.