We must punish bad employer behaviour – Straight Talking, by John Douglas

Thursday 19 July 2018

It’s proving to be a long hot summer for Mandate members as they attempt to vindicate their basic human rights to have a voice at work through a union of their choosing. Given the recent reactions of employers such as TK Maxx, Tesco, Lloyds and others, one would have to ask why should decent hard working employees have to endure taking to the streets so that they can have a voice at work through their union, why should workers, the majority of whom are lower paid be forced by large corporations to lose wages in order to be heard. The same corporations have a plethora of employer organisations to which they belong to represent their best interests, from IBEC, Chambers of Commerce and a battery of high powered legal firms and consultants. Deep pockets can buy you a voice as an employer and at the same time be used to stop and intimidate workers having any say whatsoever.

One would have to ask themselves what are employers afraid of when workers combine and join unions, what are they trying to hide?

There can be only one answer to the above question, that is that workers combining and joining unions tips the power balance relationship away from the employer and towards the workers, and in doing so gives workers a very real chance of improving their wage and other terms and conditions of employment. The LloydsPharmacy example is a case in point. For years the employer simply ignored the predicament of their employees, who were on low wages, zero hour contracts, no sick pay or pension scheme etc., etc. Finally a sizable group of workers decided to stand up to exploitation and join Mandate and collectively fight for better wages and conditions. As soon as they did this, there was an immediate response from Lloyds the employer. They started throwing money at the workers to buy them off – they improved wage rates (but not nearly enough) they introduced a sick pay scheme (substandard) they said they would end zero hour contracts (they did not) they even went as far as setting up their own in-house “yellow union” and all of this because they feared the collective strength of workers with a voice in an independent union. Their first bribe to employees failed miserably and they have promised that they will further increase pay and improve conditions again – all within the space of ten (10) weeks when they did nothing for the previous ten (10) years. It just goes to prove that the surest way to improve your wages and conditions is to join and be active in your union – Solidarity and collectivism pays dividends for workers.

TK Maxx followed a similar pattern of behaviour despite the Labour Court advising them to engage with the employees’ union, Mandate, they instead choose to try and buy the loyalty of workers at local level – why??? Because they know workers united will make a positive difference to terms and conditions. Again, our members are smarter and wiser than to fall for the short-termism of money today, but employer payback down the road.

Sadly, this is the approach Tesco Ireland is exploring post the recent strike. Regardless of the rights of wrongs of the strike and there were many rights/wrongs on both sides, the recent behaviour of Tesco is a clear indication that they are choosing a path of closing down free and independent workers’ voice at work. This is regrettable for Mandate has in the past always held Tesco up as being an employer of high standing and while at this moment their terms and conditions are among the leaders in retail, Tesco workers would have to ask themselves as to why the company is spending so much time and effort in trying to snuff out a free and independent workers’ voice via their unions (Mandate/SIPTU). It is difficult to come to any other conclusion other than Tesco is prepared to invest large sums of money and effort in the short term to buy its employees with the long term aim of removing employees ability in the future to independently improve their own terms and conditions, by collective means. In other words tipping the power balance relationship at work fully in favour of the employer – if this happens workers need to ask themselves are they prepared into the future to settle for the crumbs off the rich man’s table?

Our members and this union, and indeed the whole trade union movement in Ireland are not prepared to stand idly by and allow employers to do this, we are prepared to engage in genuine and good faith bargaining with any employer, but for those employers who set out to deny or remove workers voices in independent and free trade unions, then we must all stand united together and fight back by all means at our disposal. We the 700,000 union members and our families must vote with our feet, we must only spend our union euros where workers count, we must punish bad employer behaviour.

Stronger together, united in solidarity.