Tesco threatens to fire workers who picketed at other shops

Letters sent to staff who joined pickets at shops where they didn’t work

A  shopper entering a Tesco outlet in Dublin. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

A shopper entering a Tesco outlet in Dublin. File photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Tesco has threatened almost 100 staff with disciplinary action “up to and including dismissal” for joining pickets at shops where they didn’t work during a recent strike.

A voluntary redundancy scheme available to staff employed pre-1996 will also be taken off the table on April 18th in a move which union sources believe is designed to pressure some long-serving employees into leaving.

However management has insisted both the disciplinary letters sent over the past fortnight and the severance package deadline are in line with established procedures and a spokeswoman expressed confidence a deal on compensation due to long serving staff will be reached.

Since early March Tesco and the Mandate trade union have been engaged in talks aimed at resolving a long-running dispute which saw pickets placed on 16 outlets for almost two weeks in February over what the union said was an attempt by management to enforce contract changes for some staff.

Mandate claimed the changes would see the wages of staff recruited before 1996 falling by more than 15 per cent. Tesco denied this and said it needed to make changes to reflect an altered retail environment which now includes late-night and online shopping, as well as Sunday openings.

When balloted, all pre-1996 workers supported strike action and in supportive ballots among other Tesco employees in over 40 stores, 16 voted in favour of strike.

The letter states: “It has come to our attention that you have been engaged in picketing at [X STORE].

“This is the case even though your store voted not to take strike action and the strike notices served on Tesco on the 5 and 8 of February do not include colleagues from your store.”

Because those concerned joined pickets at shops other than the ones in which they worked, pre-1996 staff were told their “absence from work... amounts to unauthorised absence”. The letter went on to say that “given this alleged behaviour you will be invited to an investigation meeting to determine whether or not disciplinary action is required up to and including dismissal action for serious misconduct.”

Staff from non-striking shops who - in their free time - stood alongside colleagues in stores impacted by the dispute have also received warning letters in which they were accused of misconduct while on the picket lines.

Mandate’s assistant general secretary Gordon Light confirmed the letters had been sent to members and he said union representatives were at all the disciplinary meetings.

He suggested the threats were in breach of long-standing protocols stating that union members should not be targeted by management once a strike ends. He also expressed concern at the company’s deadline of April 18th for staff to accept the redundancy package describing it as “an integral part of the discussions” that are ongoing.

Tesco defended the letters and said that “serious allegations made at any time by customers and colleagues about Tesco employees, or instances where we have concerns that colleagues left work without approval, irrespective of an industrial relations dispute or not, will always be investigated via the company’s processes.”

A spokeswoman said such processes “form part of Tesco policies and procedures in line with its agreements with its unions” and added that “unlike many other retailers, Tesco has such agreements with its unions.”

She confirmed that the voluntary redundancy scheme which has been open for 12 months will close on April 18th. “Tesco remains hopeful of reaching an agreement on the compensation for removing the pre-1996 terms and conditions from our business and continues to engage in mediation with trade unions to settle this matter which involves an outstanding Labour Court Recommendation,” she concluded.