STAFF representatives at Tesco yesterday claimed the supermarket giant had threatened to lock out the workers at a Cork store until June unless they agreed to new terms and conditions.
Mandate trade union said the workers were called into meetings with management in small groups. They were told if they pressed ahead with the action, the Douglas store would remain closed until June and they wouldn’t receive any pay until then.
It also claimed some staff were told that if stressed by events, they could ring in sick and, as long as they did not embark on strike action, they would be able to remain on paid sick leave.
Despite the warnings, Mandate divisional organiser Lorraine O’Brien said there was a high turnout for the picket of the shop, which began yesterday and could continue indefinitely unless a resolution is found.
The action is over the intention of Tesco to compulsorily buy out certain terms and conditions which staff employed before 1996 have accrued, including entitlements for early shift starts and Sunday and Friday night premiums.
The company says these are overtime payments that are being made even when the staff are not needed.
It says those payments will become even more obsolete when the workforce is increased by 100 when the new store opens. Tesco also says it is being generous in offering to pay affected staff one and a half year’s worth of overtime without them having to work the shifts.
However, the union says the reductions in overtime apply to Sunday, Friday, and early morning shifts which still have to be worked.
“They are trying to make those early hours part of the normal working day with no premiums attached so it will cost them way less even though the people will be doing exactly the same work,” Ms O’Brien said.
There is confusion over both sides’ willingness to attend the Labour Relations Commission. The union claims Tesco will not attend unless the terms and conditions are bought out first. Tesco says it is willing to attend without pre-condition.
Also at play is the company’s intention for changes nationwide. Its regional manager Geoff Byrne said yesterday: “This is specific to Douglas. I am not saying in the future there will not be a discussion at national level between Tesco and Mandate about these issues, but that will be a discussion on a national forum.”
Mandate claims to have a letter in which the company makes clear it wants discussions on premium, sick and holiday payments, and it has already said it will suspend those payments for a year from May 29.
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