There has been an angry response by unions after national retail chain Dunnes Stores sacked some employees and took other hostile actions against workers in the wake of a one-day industrial action at the stores’ outlets in the 26 Counties last week.
More than 5,000 Dunnes workers staged a one-day stoppage on Holy Thursday, placing pickets on over 100 branches of the multi-national company, making it the biggest private sector strike in recent years.
The workers’ trade union, Mandate, has received reports that some of its members who took part in pickets on April 2nd have been summarily dismissed. Others have had their hours cut, their roles changed (in some cases after more than 20 years in the same back office role), and their shift patterns altered, all in the six days since the industrial action.
One of the reported dismissals took place less than 24 hours after the worker in question participated on the strike.
It seems the employee in question was made permanent some weeks ago but then let go last Friday, the day after the strike, and told there ‘simply wasn’t the business’ to warrant his continued employment.
Since that time the worker’s job has been made available to other employees who didn’t take part in the strike action.
Mandate’s Assistant General Secretary Gerry Light described Dunnes’ behaviour as ‘deplorable’ and something that should be ‘condemned by everybody’.
“For the life of me I can’t understand what they think they’re doing. All that can come of this is a hardening of both sides’ positions,” he said.
He said the strike had the support across a huge number of bodies in Irish society.
“Logic would tell you to move towards a resolution, not engage in more provocative behaviour. The only thing that will be damaged by behaviour like this is their own (Dunnes’) business.
Because this is an unprecedented situation and unprecedented behaviour on any employer’s behalf, certainly in my experience.”
Last week’s strike came after many months of workers’ unrest.
The dispute centres on the company’s use of low-hour contracts, where a majority of its workers are guaranteed between 15 hours and 37-and-a-half hours a week, but with no certainty week-to-week of what hours they will work. Mandate says the contracts are relegating thousands of its workers to under-employment and an inability to plan such issues as childcare, or to secure loans.
With at least three quarters of Dunnes’ staff on irregular, short-term contracts, the company’s approach throughout the saga has been consistently uncompromising.
In October last year Dunnes failed to show up for a Labour Court hearing with Mandate, while the company offered a 20% discount on all online purchases on the day of last week’s strike, a move that was almost universally condemned.
Light said a number of managers had called the union anonymously, saying they had been told by more senior managers to compile lists of anyone who had been on pickets.
“This is clearly malicious, vindictive and pre-meditated intimidation of union members by Dunnes Stores management,” he said.
He said it was now “urgent” that the Government legislate to protect union members from victimisation and to enact collective bargaining legislation and to implement protections against the worst impacts of low-hour contracts.
People Before Profit spokesperson and Dublin City Councillor, Brid Smith, has called for a boycott of Dunnes Stores until the company treats their employees properly.
“These reports of victimisation by Dunnes is an absolute disgrace. Senior management of the company have shown their spinelessness by targeting workers who took the very brave decision of strike action. I am calling for a boycott of Dunnes Stores until they treat their employees with respect and give them proper hours, pay and union recognition.
“The best way for people to show their support for the workers of Dunnes is to boycott Dunnes Stores. This would send a message to Dunnes senior management that their scandalous behaviour will not be tolerated.”
Sinn Fein workers’ rights spokesperson, Senator David Cullinane, also condemned the development. He said the the government had also had a part to play in the abuses.
“The absence of collective bargaining and strong anti-victimisation in the workplace legislation has allowed unscrupulous employers such as Dunnes Stores to treat workers in this fashion,” he said.
“This sort of bullying and harassment from an employer has no place in 21st century Ireland.”