Union ‘disappointed’ at lack of response from Tesco

Mandate proposed talks aimed at resolving dispute over changes to staff contracts

Tesco staff on strike at the retailer’s store in Phibsborough, Dublin last week. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/CollinsDerry

Tesco staff on strike at the retailer’s store in Phibsborough, Dublin last week. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/CollinsDerry

 

Mandate has expressed “disbelief and disappointment” at the absence of a response from Tesco to proposals it put forward at talks on Friday.

They said the proposals were aimed at restarting constructive dialogue in the long running dispute.

The union claimed that if the retailer had been more open to proposals made at the “inconclusive” talks, there could have been an immediate suspension of a strike which has seen pickets placed on 16 stores with ballots set to take place in 23 more this week.

The head of Mandate John Douglas said proposals had been submitted “in a genuine effort to achieve a breakthrough in the current dispute between the parties” but added that no response had been forthcoming from Tesco.

The strike centres around what the Mandate union says is an attempt by Tesco management to enforce contract changes which will see the wages of staff recruited before 1996 fall by more than 15 per cent.

Tesco has repeatedly denied this and says it needs to make changes to contracts to reflect an altered retail environment which now includes late-night and online shopping as well as Sunday openings.

It says only a very small number of staff will see contract changes and promised that they will not lose out financially.

Tesco rejected the Mandate suggestion that it was at fault for the current stalemate. A spokeswoman said it was “always open to constructive dialogue, which is why we have spent 13 months in discussion with Mandate between the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. In good faith we met Mandate on Friday at their request on a without prejudice basis with a view to resolving this issue.”

She said the union had not “put forward a positive proposal rather they wanted to turn the clock back 13 months and unpick all the work done by the WRC and Labour Court. This was rejected by Tesco on Friday as the Labour Court has provided the solution to this issue.”

Resolution

However, Mr Douglas said on Monday that when Tesco management had seen the proposals put forward on Friday and said it needed time to consider them but has yet to respond.

“Such a lack of urgency and unwillingness to engage raises the legitimate question as to whether the company really wants to find a resolution to the current dispute or is there a bigger and more significant objective they are trying to achieve on the back of the pre-‘96 contract dispute,” he said.

He said that while was important “to create an environment where Tesco and Mandate can engage in negotiations to bring about an agreed resolution of the current dispute,” a Labour Court recommendation aimed at resolving the dispute which has been accepted by Tesco but rejected by union members did not make for the basis of any possible resolution.

Mr Douglas said that at the talks Mandate suggested both it and Tesco should commit to recommencing immediate negotiations on relevant issues central to this long running dispute.

The union also offered to suspend the industrial action if the company promised to hold off on imposing any changes to existing terms and conditions while negotiations recommenced.

Mr Douglas claimed the absence of a meaningful response from the company pointed to Tesco’s “blind desire to rid themselves of Mandate from their business.”

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) called on Tesco to respond positively to the proposals from Mandate and to enter talks on resolving the current dispute.

Congress General Secretary Patricia King said she was “somewhat surprised and disappointed that the company has so far failed to respond to these very serious and genuine proposals” and she urged Tesco Ireland to consider the proposals very seriously and to respond positively.

“We would also call on employers’ group Ibec to use its influence to ensure there is a fair and reasonable outcome to this dispute.”

In a statement issued on before lunch onMonday Tesco once more called the strike “irresponsible” and claimed that “support on the picket lines dwindled across the weekend... with numbers having to be inflated by non-Tesco workers in all locations.

“The reality is the strike has not been supported in the way Mandate expected by employees or customers.”

A spokeswoman said there were there are “no plans for further talks” and that the retailer “remains as the best employer in the market and the only food retailer to recognise trade unions in all our stores”.