This Thursday, April 2nd, workers in Dunnes Stores throughout the country are coming out on a one-day strike. In essence, the dispute boils down to two urgent issues.
The first is zero/low hour contracts. Such contracts require employees to be available for work but do not guarantee hours of work. Therefore, workers cannot be assured of their income from one week to the next. And because hours and shifts change, workers cannot plan childcare, eldercare, family time or leisure.
The Dunnes Stores Workers are seeking what is called ‘banded hours’. This means people are rostered in such a manner that they are guaranteed a minimum and maximum number of working hours and, so, income.
While Dunnes Stores management might claim (if they ever went public to defend their position) they require roster flexibility, banded hours are widespread throughout the industry (e.g. Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Arnotts, Pennys, to name a few). This is from Jennifer who has worked for eight years with Tesco:
‘Unlike my Dunnes colleagues, I am much more fortunate in that I have the stability and security of a banded contract. This allows me the guarantee of 30-35 hours every week but also, it does not restrict me to 35 hours. In the event that extra hours become available, I am able to work up to and including 39 hours weekly.’
The fact is that flexibility is a diversion. Management uses the roster as an instrument of control, punishment and reward to create a compliant and submissive workforce. If you try to organise a union in the workplace or make a health and safety complaint – don’t expect too many hours next week.
It is also an instrument of payroll cleansing. This from a Dunne Stores worker:
‘I tell them I can’t work between 2pm and 5pm because of child care issues . . . but they keep putting me on the 2-6pm shift. They are trying to push me out after 9 years because I’m on an old contract with higher wages. They want to replace me with cheaper staff on new contracts.’
No wonder that in a survey of Dunnes Stores workers, 85 percent stated that insecurity of hours is used as a method of control.
It is, however, the second issue that cuts to the heart of the matter. Quite simply, Dunnes Stores management treat their employees as nothing more than a factor of production. What the Dunnes Stores workers are seeking is terribly simple and far-reaching:
‘You will acknowledge us.’
You will acknowledge us when we want to discuss our contracts, our pay, our working conditions. We are not mere instruments in the value-added creating process.
Again, management will divert the issue by claiming it is about a union demanding recognition. It is not. It is not about Mandate or any trade union. It is about what the workers want. Do you or don’t you want to be a member of a union? Do you or don’t you want to negotiate with your employer collectively? Do you or don’t you want to appoint a trade union as your negotiating agent? Do you or don’t you want to take industrial action? It all starts, proceeds apace and ends with the individual worker and what she or he wants.
The Dunnes Stores workers have made their decision. They have joined a trade union, sought to negotiate with management, were ignored, and have voted by an overwhelming majority to take this
one-day action. Now they are paying a considerable price. Management is putting pressure on workers with threats of redundancies and layoffs (in a letter that wasn’t even signed) and especially key activists and workplace representatives whose working hours and income is under threat.