The Tesco strike is a battle for all of us

Tomorrow is a defining moment in the battle for decent work in Ireland.

On the one hand you have the most profitable multinational retailer on the island of Ireland; generating more than €250 million in profit annually; buying up other companies for €4.3 billion and promising to pay out dividends to already wealthy shareholders later this year – and on the other hand you have a small group of workers with 21 years of loyal service to their company fighting to protect their incomes and their contracts of employment.

Tesco Ireland is attempting to change contracts of employment without agreement for 250 staff members employed before 1996. For the last 12 months they have intimidated and pressured those workers to leave the business and generally made their lives hell.

They have told them they’re “not wanted”, they’re “old fashioned” and they’re “surplus to requirements”. And why? Because those workers have secure hour contracts with relatively decent pay and conditions.

This is the thanks you get for helping to build one of the most successful multinational retailers in the world, and it’s simply not good enough.

In Ireland we already have among the most flexible workforces in the European Union. We have the second highest prevalence of underemployment (involuntary part-time work) in the EU 15 and we have the second highest prevalence of low pay in the entire OECD.

We work hard for our employers but we don’t get the just rewards.

Now Tesco want to drive down those wages and conditions of employment even further.

And if Tesco get away with changing contracts of employment without agreement for these workers, no worker will be safe. Soon they’ll have all workers in Ireland earning close to the minimum wage, just like they do in the UK.

In Mandate we believe that every worker should have secure hours with an income that’s sufficient to provide a decent living standard for the worker and their family.

It’s not right that companies like Tesco can pay dividends to shareholders, massive bonuses to executives and at the same time cut wages for the very people who make them their profits in the first place. In fact, even though Tesco is among the better paying retailers in Ireland, more than 10% of the workforce still has to have their incomes topped up through supplementary social welfare payments. This means that it is the Irish taxpayer picking up the tab for low pay, while shareholders walk away with dividends.

Tesco has never justified changes to contracts of employment for their workers. They are still the same profitable retailer that referred to the Republic of Ireland as “Treasure Island” in the not too distant past. They have paid expensive public relations consultants to come up with a narrative about “flexibility”, “meeting the needs of the customers” and needing workers on “modern contracts”.

The fact of the matter is, Tesco want to pay their workers as little as possible in order to drive up profits for their owners. And the number one way to achieve that is to take the workers’ union, Mandate, off the pitch.

In recent weeks it has come to the attention of Mandate Trade Union that Tesco has employed a leading international legal firm which specialises in trade union busting in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Together they have developed a plan which they have code-named ‘Project Black’. This sinister move should be a worry, not only for all workers in Tesco, but for all workers across the retail sector and in Irish society in general.

If we are serious about ensuring that ‘work pays’ in Ireland and that decency and fairness are at the heart of all jobs in our society, then together we must stop the race to the bottom that Tesco is attempting to escalate. But we can only do it together. Through being united in our trade unions and by supporting workers when they struggle to protect their existing conditions of employment and by supporting them when they battle for improved conditions of employment.

Mandate has recently lodged a claim to bring all workers’ wages in Tesco up to the highest point of their pay scale and we will pursue a campaign to drive all wages and conditions of employment in the retail sector upwards over the coming months and years.

In the meantime, Tesco workers need your support:

  1. Please take the time to send a message to Andrew Yaxley, Tesco Ireland’s CEO demanding the company make no changes to contracts of employment without agreement.
  2. Please join the Tesco Workers Together Facebook page and share the event with your friends on social media.
  3. Finally, if you’re near any of the 8 Tesco stores where Mandate members are preparing to strike a blow for decency and respect at work tomorrow, then please drop down, show your solidarity and don’t pass the pickets.

The implications of Tesco’s actions being successful are too severe to contemplate for our members.

Many will struggle to pay their bills, they could fall behind on their mortgage payments and others will not be able to manage their family commitments.

We as a society need to decide whether it is acceptable for a highly profitable and powerful multinational retailer to impose this type of pain on low-paid workers who have shown more than 21 years of loyalty building that company.

I believe all Mandate members and the Irish public will send a very strong message to Tesco Ireland that this type of behaviour and exploitation of their Irish workforce will not be tolerated.

Thank you in advance for your support.

In Solidarity,

John Douglas

Mandate General Secretary

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