Dunnes Stores workers have promised to continue their campaign for improved conditions of employment and have called on the Government to introduce planned new legislation on collective bargaining rights without delay.
About 3,000 people took part in a protest rally backed by the trade union movement outside the head office of the retailer in Dublin city centre on Saturday in support of the workers’ campaign.
Staff from more than 100 Dunnes Stores outlets, who are members of the Mandate trade union, staged a one-day strike just before Easter as part of campaign which seeks secure hours and incomes, job security, fair pay and the right to representation.
Dunnes Stores has said it does not engage with trade unions. In February it accused Mandate of engineering a row on issues that did not exist to pursue an agenda of securing union representation rights.
Last month Dunnes Stores granted staff a 3 per cent pay rise. The company has also said that staff have received two other salary increases in recent years.
Mandate said at the time that the retailer would also need to put in place secure, banded hour contracts for staff if the pay rise move was to be “meaningful”.
Addressing the rally, Dunnes Stores worker Muireann Dalton said staff had been "punished" for taking part in the recent strike. She said people who had held posts for 20 or 30 years suddenly had been moved to other areas.
She said workers had faced a backlash after the work stoppage and had to hold a march to show Dunnes Stores management that they were not backing down.
Ms Dalton urged politicians to pass the planned collective bargaining legislation.
"We don't have to wait on (Dunnes Stores chief ) Margaret Heffernanto change things for us. We can change the world around Margaret Heffernan, " she said.
“We are not numbers. We arepeople. We are people who want to earn a decenet wage, a living wage. We want to pay our bills. We want to send our children to school. I want to pay for my son to go to college. I want to pay my taxes. I want to work . I want 40-hours per week. I want a wage.”
Ms Dalton urged politicians not to “fob off” workers by delaying the introduction of the collective bargaining legislation until October or November.
“ A day in day in Dáil Eireann is a lifetime on a Dunnes Stores shop floor.”
The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Patricia King strongly criticised directors of Dunnes Stores and argued that by any moral measuresment, they had descended to a shameful low.
“No human being deserves to be treated in the maner in which you instruct on a regular basis.”
She said Dunnes Stores used its power to own and control the lives of its workers.
“If those workers do not comply with those demands, they threaten disciplinary action or re-assignment and they deny those workers tradeunion representation.
Mandate said on Saturday that thousands of workers in Dunnes Stores “do not know what hours they’ll have on a week-to-week basis and consequently their income can fluctuate from approximately €144 per week to €400 per week. Mandate say workers need certainty of earnings.”
Gerry Light, Mandate assistant general secretary said: "It is totally unacceptable that a local manager in Dunnes Stores can pick and choose which individual members of staff will be able to provide for their families at the end of a week.
“There are many Dunnes workers who have been with the company for up to 10 years doing 35 hours per week, only to have their hours slashed overnight and the company then hires new staff on lower wages. This is a complete abuse of power and it must be stopped.”
Mr Light said that Dunnes Stores generated up to €350 million in profit annually and the owners had accumulated an estimated €1.78 billion in wealth.
“This is not about the inability of Dunnes to treat their workers fairly, it’s about their unwillingness to do so. Today, Dunnes workers, members of the wider trade union movement and the public will send a strong message to Dunnes Stores and all other unscrupulous employers.
“We want decent work and a living wage for all.”
Dunnes Stores has not commented publicly on its dispute with Mandate.
The retailer employs almost 10,000 workers in 114 stores in the Republic of Ireland.