A show of unity and the threat of pickets on all Tesco stores forced the company to delay its plans to slash the pay of long term staff. The company has also been forced to make more concessions such as a redundancy and once off compensation package.
However as we go to print, Tesco’s threats still hang over the 1000 long term staff who they want to see suffer cuts of up to 35% in their earnings. Many workers would lose over €6,000 a year.
Tesco management were clearly caught off guard by the wave of anger and solidarity from all grades of workers to their announcement that they would unilaterally cut the long term staffs wages down to same levels as workers who joined since 1996.
Tesco employs over 14,000 workers in its stores and it expected the 1,000 long term staff to be isolated. In fact while these staff voted by over 99% for strike action, both the Mandate and SIPTU unions was forced to ballot newer staff as well, as it became clear that there was huge support across the stores to strike in defense of the targeted staff. If management went ahead with the cuts, it faced a total shutdown of all 149 stores.
Workers were incensed at the attack coming at the same time of Tesco’s head office announcement of €162 million profits in the first three months of the year. Tesco Ireland has reported total revenue of €2.5 billion and growing sales. The Irish branch has traditionally been amongst the most profitable in its global empire, earning Ireland the nickname of “Treasure Ireland” from the Tesco bosses in London.
While the solidarity of the Tesco workers has forced the bosses to back down for now, the dispute also holds a warning for trade unionists. The attempt to cut newer entrants pay and conditions has often being accepted by union officials as a way of avoiding a dispute.
Such moves can be used later by bosses to try to divide the workforce. This is why the stance taken by Luas drivers and the campaigns in teaching and nursing unions for equal pay for new recruits are so important. The magnificent example of solidarity by Tesco workers shows it is possible to unite different grades and fight back