John Douglas, Mandate General Secretary
On Thursday, 2nd April, one of the largest private sector strikes in two decades will take place across the Republic of Ireland as Dunnes Stores workers strike for decent work and a living wage. Dunnes Stores operates 113 outlets with approximately 10,000 workers in the Republic of Ireland.
The decision to ballot in favour of industrial action is courageous and should be commended, considering Dunnes workers are in low-paid, precarious employment and in typical Dunnes Stores fashion, the workers were threatened with layoffs and redundancies directly by their employer should the industrial action go ahead.
As with all industrial disputes, Dunnes workers don’t want to go on strike, but they’ve been left with no other option after their employer refused to engage with their union and also refused invitations from the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) and the Labour Court.
At the heart of the dispute is decency and fairness, something senior management in Dunnes find incomprehensible. The Decency for Dunnes Workers campaign was founded on four key objectives: Secure hours and earnings; Job security; Fair and consistent pay for all Dunnes workers; the right to be represented by their trade union.
Not too dissimilar to the dock workers of 1913, many Dunnes workers have no idea what their pay will be from week to week. They operate on minimum 15 hour contracts and the allocation of hours is at the sole discretion of a store manager. All it takes is for a worker to lodge a grievance, have a disagreement with their manager, or perhaps join a trade union, and the local manager can reduce their hours from 40 to 15 and spread them over five days preventing the worker from obtaining supplementary social welfare or Family Income Supplement (FIS). While their essential bills, including electricity, gas, clothing and food, are consistent, their income can move from €350 per week to €150 per week at the whim of a manager.
Dunnes Stores issue a number of contracts to employees including six month and nine month temporary contracts. In many cases, these contracts are not renewed with no explanation given to their workers who have given, in some cases, several years of loyal service. The company will then hire a whole new batch of temporary contracts and the cycle will continue.
Over the past two years, Mandate has lodged two 3% pay claims with Dunnes, both of which were successful. However, following the implementation of those pay increases, many workers had their hours cut reducing their income dramatically. Workers are demanding that any future pay increases are linked to banded hour contracts with secure earnings.
Dunnes Stores is effectively refusing the right of its staff to be collectively represented by a union by refusing all invitations to enter negotiations despite the existence of a collective agreement freely entered into by the Company in 1996 which provides a procedural framework within which industrial disputes can be resolved by negotiation.
It is important that all trade unionists get behind the Dunnes Stores workers. Since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, the number of workers classified as “underemployed” has increased by almost 60 percent. Underemployed is a nice way of saying that workers want or need more hours but they cannot access them. Ireland now has the second highest prevalence of underemployed workers in the EU15, behind only Spain, whereas in 2008, we had the lowest. This is due to firstly, the lack of statutory provisions, including the full implementation of the Part-Time Worker Directive, and secondly; the lack of collective bargaining rights, where workers can negotiate better and fairer conditions of employment.
With the enormous increase in precarious employment and with Ireland having the second highest prevalence of low-pay in the OECD, it’s time workers fought back for decent work and a living wage. On Thursday, 2nd April, show your support for the Dunnes Stores workers as they strike a blow for decent work and a living wage.
Please go to www.dunnesworkers.com and sign the petition in support of the workers and ‘Like’ the Decency for Dunnes Workers Facebook and Twitter pages to stay up to date with the campaign.
Mandate conducted a survey of more than 1,200 Dunnes workers last year with the following results:
• 76% of workers say they are on part time flexible contracts.
• 98% of workers want more stable hours.
• 85% say insecurity of hours and rostering is used as a method of control.
• 98% of workers want Dunnes to respect their right to trade union representation.
• 88% of workers believe hours are unfairly distributed.
• 97% of workers believe that if hours become available in their store, they should be offered to existing staff in the first instance.
• 89% say it is common practice that new staff on lesser terms and lesser rates of pay receive more hours than longer serving staff on better terms.
• 83% say temporary contracts are being used outside of busy trading periods and Christmas.
• 88% feel Dunnes workers are not treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.
Please click on link below to access Dunnes Stores Solidarity Events