Representing the majority of the 2,300 staff in the company, Mandate stated that on October 31 the retailer’s management closed the employee's defined benefit pension scheme, without agreement, and informed the workers that their retirement fund is a ‘discretionary benefit’.
As a result, Mandate said it has given formal notification of strike action, and that the first walk-out is planned for Saturday, December 7, across the 17 Irish stores, and that two further days of action are planned before Christmas on Thursday, December 12 and Friday, December 20.
M&S staff to strike over pensionsMandate assistant general secretary, Gerry Light, said: “While we fully recognise that some employers in the retail sector are struggling and that Marks & Spencer, like many, are operating with reduced profits, the company have given their workers absolutely no satisfactory proof that the permanent withdrawal of terms and conditions of employment is necessary or justified.
“Mandate has traditionally had a good relationship with Marks & Spencer, however, in recent months the company has made many decisions which are baffling and shocking to the union and our members and if implemented would impact negatively upon them and their families. Now they've implemented one of those changes without agreement. This is not how you conduct good industrial relations in 2013."
Mandate members will be joined by staff represented by Siptu, the services and industrial professional and technical union that looks after around 140 M&S workers in stores across the Dublin area, after its members voted 100 percent in favour of industrial action.
Siptu organiser, Neil McGowan, added: “The workers are disgusted at the decision of the management of Marks & Spencer to close their defined benefit pension scheme without discussion or agreement with the union. There was no meaningful discussion with union representatives in relation to the closure of the pension scheme, with management taking the view that the scheme is a ‘discretionary benefit’.
“The company has failed to provide satisfactory evidence to support its claims in relation to the pension scheme and cuts to other benefits. These include plans to cut workers’ premiums and Christmas bonus.”
A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said: "M&S has done all it can to try and move this situation forward so we are extremely disappointed that the company has been given notice that strike action has been called.
“We are fully prepared to reopen talks at any time either locally or at the Labour Relations Commission in order to avoid the impact on our customers and employees in the run up to Christmas.”
The strike action comes as both the Retail Excellence Ireland and the Irish Chambers of Commerce admitted that December will be crucial for many Irish high street shops across the country.