From Socialist Voice, December 2009

Workers in struggle

Putting the boot in

As one of Ireland’s leading and more profitable retailers prepares to put the boot in to its employees, Mandate is balloting its members for industrial action in that employment—Boot’s pharmacies. It should not be lost sight of that, despite the economic downturn, this employer has reported incredible business performance over the last number of years, to the point where in March 2008 it actually posted Irish profits of more than €20 million.
     Similarly, the company has cash reserves to the tune of €70 million; yet it shies away not only from paying its employees their due wage increases under the transitional agreement of “Towards 2016” but is also intent on unilaterally introducing reduced rates of pay and poorer terms and conditions.
     While some employers exercise the “inability to pay” clause of the same agreement, Boot’s flagrantly and unashamedly argues that its current programme—“our new employment package”—is to ensure that it is a “fit-for-purpose” company going into the future. This entails unilaterally introducing a new employee pay scale that effectually cuts wages for the great majority of its staff and certainly disadvantages any new employees entering the business.
     The company is further unilaterally imposing pay freezes for all employees who are not affected by the new pay rates, introducing new Sunday and public holiday premium payments by reducing current premiums by 25 per cent, and imposing increased flexibility on all core business hours, which are to change to 7 to 10, and more Sunday working where previously some employee worked no or limited Sundays, etc.
     Furthermore—and all the more worrying—all previous company-union agreements are to be derecognised from the 17th of November 2009—the date for all these changes to be implemented.
     Before these developments, Mandate and Boot’s enjoyed good industrial relations and, whenever the need arose, were able to reach agreement on a wide range of issues that enhanced not only members’ terms and conditions but their morale and subsequent performance. It appears that this historical legacy is to be kicked to touch!
     The company also had to be dragged by its bootlaces to the Labour Relations Commission, at which it refused to enter the standard joint session at the start of the conciliation process; and, when those talks were unsuccessful, they have snubbed the follow-on stage of the Labour Court.
     Mandate is fully aware that, while its current campaign of action is with this one particular company, many Irish retailers are slavishly waiting in the wings to follow suit and appear to be following a coherent and co-ordinated strategy of attempting to break this union.
     Company correspondence is worryingly along the same lines, to the point where it is more or less exact, bar the headings and the signatories.
     Some might suggest that this is paranoia on Mandate’s part; but, given the present climate, many trade unionists would and should be forgiven for feeling paranoid. The business community, aided by their chief supporters in the Government, are determined to claw back the hard-fought and well-won rates of pay, terms and conditions of Irish workers as well as to reduce and erode the future influence of trade unionism in Ireland.
     Mandate has already embarked on a wide-ranging campaign to publicise the greed of this employer and its proposed plans. It is expected that a strong ballot in favour of industrial action, to be counted and declared on the 6th of November, will not only bring this company to its senses but will teach it and its business cohorts a meaningful lesson, which is: Mandate will not be going away, and certainly not without a fight.

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