Dunnes Stores claims right not to engage with trade unions

Members of Mandate to ballot for industrial action over Labour Court recommendations

Retailer Dunnes Stores has said it has a constitutional right not to engage directly with trade unions. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Retailer Dunnes Stores has said it has a constitutional right not to engage directly with trade unions. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

Retailer Dunnes Stores has said it has a constitutional right not to engage directly with trade unions. It has accused the trade union Mandate of seeking to generate a dispute that does not exist with its employees with a view to securing negotiation rights.

In a letter to staff the company said despite the economic downturn it had put in place two pay rises and maintained employment levels.

Management said it hoped the company and its employees could continue to work together as the alternative would cause harm to Dunnes Stores and result in redundancies and lay-offs.

The letter, which was issued last week, came in advance of a move by about 5,000 members of Mandate in Dunnes Stories to ballot on industrial action over what it said was the company’s refusal to accept a recent Labour Court recommendations on pay, contracts and representation rights.

Mandate assistant general secretary Gerry Light said the workers had been left with no alternative other than to vote for industrial action.

“Our members in Dunnes Stores have been put in a very difficult position by management who are refusing to abide by their own collective agreement which they freely signed up to in 1996,” Mr Light said.

“Dunnes workers have been patient and have given their employer every opportunity to resolve their issues of concern but unfortunately Dunnes management continue their stubborn refusal to engage and are now ignoring the impartial Labour Court, who have issued a recommendation stating that they should engage with their workers’ representatives.”

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.

In the letter to staff 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.”

The letter said the Supreme Court had ruled in a case involving Ryanair and the trade union Impact that a company had a constitutional right to decide not to engage with 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.

Mandate rejected any suggestion it was making up grievances.

“If the recent ‘Decency for Dunnes Workers’ survey taken by 1,200 workers is anything to go by there are serious and significant issues being raised by Dunnes workers and to claim that they don’t exist is an insult.

“For example: 98 per cent of workers want more stable hours; 85 per cent say insecurity of hours and rostering is used as a method of control over workers; 88 per cent feel they are not treated with dignity and respect; 98 per cent of workers want Dunnes to respect their right to trade union representation.”