Tesco staff are going on 'indefinite' strike over cuts to long-standing workers' pay

Up to 15 stores could be affected by the stoppages.

By Fora Staff

TESCO WORKERS FROM nine supermarket branches will go on strike next week, with their union warning that the industrial action could go on for “an indefinite duration”.

The company has asked staff who have worked at the company since before 1996 to sign new contracts that will cut their pay.

Last April, Mandate union members voted overwhelmingly to strike over the move, which Tesco claimed was necessary as the old contracts were ‘unworkable’ and belonged to an era when stores operated different opening hours.

The Labour Court has since backed changes to the terms and conditions for pre-1996 staff.

Possible industrial action was delayed through the intervention of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), but allegations have surfaced that Tesco are planning to initiate the same Labour Court recommendations that staff rejected last year.

Mandate, which says it represents more than 10,000 workers at the company, is calling on Tesco to guarantee that no changes to existing contracts will be made without agreement.

Tesco employs around 14,500 people in Ireland, making it one of the country’s largest employers.

A spokeswoman for Tesco Ireland today said that the company had “exhausted the state industrial relations process” and said that ball was now in Mandate’s court to abide by the Labour Court’s recommendation.

The Tesco stores to be affected by the strikes include three in Dublin, as well as outlets in Wicklow, Longford, Meath, Sligo, Kerry and Offaly.

File Photo Tesco strike to go ahead tomorrow over plans by the company to reduce their pay and conditions.
Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

‘Abuse of power’

Mandate has accused Tesco of an “abuse of power” in trying to push through pay cuts for around 250 of its longest-standing employers.

The union accuses the company of never justifying the cuts to their workers’ conditions of employment and that their actions against around 250 workers who have given more than 20 years of service was an “abuse of power”.

John Douglas, Mandate general secretary, said: “Tesco workers in Ireland who have worked with the company for more than 21 years, and are already classified as low-paid on slightly more than €14 per hour, are being told to accept imposed changes to their contracts or get out the door.

“No worker wants to go on strike, but our members recognise that if Tesco can get away with tearing up contracts of employment without agreement for pre-1996 staff, it’ll be the 3,000 workers on post-1996 contracts who are currently on a higher hourly rate of pay next.”

The number of stores affected by strikes could rise to 15 after further ballots tonight.

The workers’ votes follow Dáil claims last week from Independents4Change TD Joan Collins that Tesco planned to “unilaterally impose pay cuts of 15% on the company’s longest-serving workers”.

She said the move was part of a larger plan – known as ‘Project Black’ - which had the goal of axing “1,200 of the most secure and well-paid jobs in the company”.

Tesco dismissed Collins’ claims as “not accurate”, saying only 280 staff would be affected by the Labour Court’s recommendations. It has not addressed the ‘Project Black’ comments directly.

The company said it had accepted the court’s recommendation “in its totality, even though it was beyond what we believed was affordable”.

“Our business must be able to meet the needs of our customers but terms and conditions nearly quarter of a century old do not take account of the growth of late night, weekend and online shopping and create unfairness as hours are not evenly spread out.”

Tesco’s Irish arm has been battling declining sales over much of the past five years amid stiff competition from the German discount chains and domestic rivals Dunnes and SuperValue.

Reporting by Sean Murray and Peter Bodkin