More than two-thirds (67%) of workers at Irish department store chain Dunnes Stores have voted for industrial action in a dispute over pay and contracts.
Irish trade union Mandate said a national strike committee will meet tomorrow (March 10) to decide on the type of industrial action and the date it will start.
Workers are calling for fair pay for workers, a review of the retailer’s use of temporary contracts and the implementation of contracts that guarantee a minimum number of hours to provide greater security. They also want the right to individual and collective representation in line with an agreement Dunnes Stores signed with Mandate in 1996. Mandate said workers are frequently denied such rights.
On February 4 Dunnes Stores sent a letter to employees asking them to: “approach the [proposed industrial action] position with an open mind but against the backdrop of the fact that the company, throughout difficult times, has maintained your jobs, increased your pay and continues to give solid and firm employment throughout a substantial portion of this country.
“We…hope that we can continue to work together as otherwise the inevitable consequence will be harm to the company which can only but harm its employees resulting in redundancies and layoffs.”
Dunnes Stores worker Cathy McLoughlin said: “Our employer refuses to enter into discussions with us through our union, and they won’t even go to the Labour Court [the appeal body for workplace grievances and claims in Ireland] to address our issues.
“None of us want to go on strike because we really can’t afford it, but what other option have we got? Our employer can stop the strike by simply agreeing to meet our union and we don’t feel that’s an unreasonable request. All we’re really asking is to be treated the same as workers in other retail outlets like Tesco, Penneys and Supervalu, who have secure hours and a right to be represented by their union.”
In November last year, a survey of 1,200 Dunnes Stores workers found 76% were on a part-time flexible contract and 98% wanted more stable hours. Almost 90% of workers said they thought the hours were unfairly distributed, with 89% saying it is common practice that new employees on lesser terms and lesser rates of pay receive more hours than longer-serving staff on better terms.
Gerry Light, assistant general secretary of Mandate, said: “Despite Dunnes Stores threatening job losses and cuts in hours, our members have taken the remarkable and very brave decision of voting in favour of industrial action. The close result of this ballot [for strike action] is a reflection of the nervousness felt by staff members over their security of income and security of their jobs.”
Dunnes Stores has 155 stores including 116 stores in Republic of Ireland, 23 in Northern Ireland, six in England, five in Scotland and five in Spain. It is not known how many people it employs in total. The company has not yet responded to Drapers’ request for comment.