M&S staff to strike as ESB action looms near

More than 2,000 staff at Marks & Spencer are due to start a series of one-day stoppages in the run-up to Christmas, beginning next Saturday.

M&S staff to strike  as ESB action looms near

Workers at the retailer’s 17 stores in the Republic have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action in a dispute over a number of proposed changes to terms and conditions.

Staff — most of whom are members of the Mandate trade union — have been particularly angered by the closure of the workers’ pension scheme without agreement, and 94% voted in favour of strike action following the decision by M&S management to close its defined benefit pension scheme for employees on Oct 31.

The company claimed the operation of the pension fund was a “discretionary benefit”.

It has also sought a reduction in the number of section managers, as well as reductions in Sunday and public holiday premium payments and the elimination of a Christmas bonus.

As a result of the ballot, Mandate members are set to mount three one-day strikes during the busy pre-Christmas shopping period — Dec 7, Dec 12 and Dec 20.

Mandate assistant general secretary Gerry Light said the company’s pension fund, unlike many others, was performing well and in surplus by €17m.

“Mandate has traditionally had a good relationship with Marks & Spencer. However, in recent months, the company has made decisions which are baffling and shocking to the union and our members, and if implemented would impact negatively upon them and their families,” said Mr Light.

He complained that the union had been given limited access to the company’s accounts, which failed to provide figures for the breakdown of its Irish operations. Mr Light said the attempt by M&S to implement changes without agreement was not how good industrial relations were conducted in 2013.

Mandate also described proposals put by the company during talks at the Labour Relations Commission to buy out existing terms and conditions of employment as “derisory”.

M&S could not be contacted for comment.

Meanwhile, the threat of electricity cuts moved a step closer as the ESB group of unions yesterday formally served notice of industrial action on the company.

Unless current talks to resolve a row over the ESB pension fund can be resolved, workers could begin strike action from Dec 16.

The position will become clearer by Dec 9 as the ESB unions are legally obliged to give the company a week’s notice of the nature of any industrial action.

ESB management said it was extremely concerned about the potentially serious impact of the situation.

“We have not been advised of the nature of any proposed action. However, should any action have the potential to impact on customers we will make every effort to minimise any disruption caused and to keep the public informed in advance,” said a spokesperson.

IDA Ireland warned yesterday that the threatened power outages could severely impact on leading multinational companies based in the Republic, and hurt the country’s international reputation.

IDA chief executive Barry O’Leary said the agency had in recent days been contacted by some of those firms, expressing concern about the implications of any possible energy cuts.

“At any one time we will have tens of companies in the process of making a decision to move parts of their business to Ireland. If we can’t guarantee something as basic as electricity, these investments are less likely to come to Ireland,” said Mr O’Leary.

He added: “Ireland will lose credibility with international companies if a power outage goes ahead. The resulting impact on investment could be significant.”

Employers’ group Ibec warned that a strike by ESB staff could lead to thousands of workers being put on protective notice and losing income in the run-up to Christmas.

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