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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 21 April, 2018
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'We'll be here as long as it takes': Striking Tesco workers say they're in it for the long haul

Strike action began today at eight stores and unions say more will follow.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

TESCO WORKERS AND union officials paced up and down in the fog and misty rain on Baggot Street this afternoon on their first day out on the picket.

Workers had turned out while it was still dark at 7am this morning. When TheJournal.ie visited this lunchtime they showed no signs of leaving.

“We’re here today and we’ll be here as long as it takes,” said Richard Nolan.

Nolan has been working in Tesco for the past 25 years. He said he came out to protect the rights of the long-term workers there, whose contracts were being “attacked”.

“We’re here to protect the long-term workers’ terms and conditions because they’re being attacked.

We’re looking to protect our working contacts and the rest of the workers in the future.

Nolan was one of about 10 people picketing outside the doors of the supermarket this afternoon. He was joined by fellow workers, as well as Mandate trade union organisers.

IMG_20170214_121728 Richard Nolan said that long-term workers' contracts are being attacked. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

The store is one of eight across Ireland in which workers are striking this afternoon, in a dispute over the contracts of people who have been there since before 1996.

Mandate states that eight additional stores are set to join the strike from Friday, with more being balloted next week.

The supermarket remained open today in spite of the strike, with management staff taking the place of regular workers.

As shoppers approached the doors, they were politely asked not to enter by the workers gathered in support of the strike. Some people entered anyway, while others turned away with leaflets in hand.

IMG_20170214_122109 Some shoppers turned away from Tesco when they saw the picket line, while others entered the store. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

TheJournal.ie walked around the supermarket itself at about 12.30pm. A number of customers were inside although the store was not busy.

Staff working inside declined to speak to TheJournal.ie, directing all queries to a communications spokesperson.

The dispute

Speaking to TheJournal.ie outside the store, Mandate industrial officer Keith Pollard said that workers were striking as mandatory cuts were being imposed on staff.

“As late as last Friday Mandate wrote to the company stating that if they lifted the threat of enforcing these cuts then this strike would not be going ahead today,” he said.

Why does a multinational company who earns hundreds of millions of euro profit each year feel it necessary to target low-paid workers?

The dispute centres around contract changes for workers who have been employed by Tesco since before 1996.

There are 250 people who will be affected by these contract changes, while 700 have taken voluntary redundancy in the past year (Mandate states this figure is higher). Tesco Ireland currently employs 14,500 people.

Mandate said it believes these new contracts will be vastly inferior to the ones workers are now on.

AO9Z6849 TESCO STRIKE_90502794 Source: RollingNews.ie

Tesco strongly disputes his however. It states that “the company has not made any changes to the pre-1996 terms and conditions of the 250 workers at the centre of the dispute”.

Tesco is calling on the union to accept a Labour Court recommendation around the contract conditions of the workers.

“The recommendations protect colleagues’ rate of pay with 90% actually getting an increase in their rate under the Labour Court proposals,” a company spokesperson said.

We believe now more than ever that there is an onus on Mandate to abide by the outcomes of the Labour Court which is the agreement the union had sought.

The workers are supported by Sinn Féin, AAA-PBP, Independents 4 Change and other independents.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie outside the store on Baggot Street this afternoon, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for workers’ rights David Cullinane said that dialogue between both parties in the dispute was important.

“These are people who have given long years of service to Tesco,” he said.

They have supported the company through thick and thin. The company should support them.

IMG_20170214_122028 Cullinane said dialogue should be entered into between both parties in the dispute. Source: Cormac Fitzgerald

Richard Nolan said he hoped the dispute could be resolved soon, but that workers would continue striking indefinitely until the current terms and conditions of their contracts are protected.

“We’re getting a lot of support from the public today,” he said.

Unfortunately the weather hasn’t stayed with us but that’s neither here nor there.

Read: What on earth is Project Black? And why are Irish unions so worried about it?

Read: Tesco and union still split as Valentine’s Day strike looms large

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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